Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
We are certainly familiar with these lyrics from the hymn do you hear what I hear…but are we familiar with the origins of this song that speak to us and our world of what must be the most sought after Christmas and Epiphany gift all year round…peace.
Many people mistakenly assume this Christmas classic has been around for years. But it was written in 1962 as a powerful plea for peace by a man who had experienced the horrors of war.
The song’s message of peace is as desperately needed today as it was then…especially in light of recent heightened tensions in the Middle East with Iran…not to mention continued concern with Russia, China and North Korea.
A brilliant musical career seemed assured for the French-born Noel Regney.
Then came the Second World War, when France was overwhelmed by Hitler’s troops. Much against Regney’s will, he was drafted into the German army.
He hated the Nazis who occupied the land where he was born. So, while still in the German army, Regney became a member of the French underground. His assignments required him to remain in a German uniform.
He collected information and, when possible, warned French resistance fighters of attacks the Germans were planning against them.
One mission would continue to haunt Noel Regney: He was assigned the task of leading a group of German soldiers into a trap where the French fighters could catch them in a crossfire.
Although Regney was shot that day, he survived. The French suffered only minor injuries. But the memory of the enemy soldiers falling to the ground, most of them dead, was etched in Noel Regney’s mind.
He never commented publicly on what took place that terrifying day.
Not long after this encounter, Regney deserted the German army and lived underground with the French for the rest of the war.
In the late ’50s, Noel Regney married pianist Gloria Shayne and lived in Manhattan.
Of all their works, that simple Christmas song is the one that will continue to be treasured:
In October 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States were involved in a crisis centered on missiles the Russians had installed in Cuba. The United States threatened military action if the missiles were not removed. The world trembled and prayed as these two nuclear powers stood eyeball-to-eyeball.
That October, as Noel Regney walked through the streets of New York, a sense of despair was in the air. No one smiled.
Regney had endured the horrors of war. He knew the fear and terror of being close to death. The safe and secure life he had built for himself and his family in the United States was on the verge of ending.
Christmas, which was supposed to be a time of peace and goodwill, was approaching and Noel had been asked by a record producer to write a holiday song.
“I had thought I’d never write a Christmas song,” he recalled. “Christmas had become so commercial. But this was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if and when we would all be obliterated.”
“En route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling. All of a sudden, my mood was extraordinary.”
A glimpse of these babies filled Noel’s heart with poetry. The little ones reminded him of newborn lambs. Thus, the song begins, “Said the night wind to the little lamb….”
As soon as Noel arrived home, he jotted down the lyrics. Then he asked Gloria to write the music.
“Do You Hear What I Hear?” carried a beautiful message close to people in all walks of life. It became a popular Christmas carol, “a song high above the tree, with a voice as big as the sea.” But the message of peace was lost on many people…as it seems so sadly to be more and more today.
“I am amazed that people can think they know the song and not know it is a prayer for peace,” Noel Regney once told an interviewer. “But we are so bombarded by sounds and our attention spans are so short.”
The reality remains that enduring peace…real peace is associated with Jesus Christ who in many of the Christmas scripture readings from the prophets is announced as the Prince of Peace. And not just on an individual level…
Christ first came to His own people who were a beleaguered nation under the cruel oppression of not only their own ruler King Herod, but the tyranny of Rome which was an empire of oppression.
And what an interesting dynamic the Epiphany story tells of those who entrusted with power choose how to wield it. King Herod seeks the Christ child to destroy Him who seems to pose a threat to his self-serving thirst for power to be a false god by killing the real God…while the Three Kings who have traveled so far come to pay Christ homage…pledge their service to him by way of giving him three precious gifts.
And lest we forget…we are endowed with a Royal Status, dignity and power that exceeds all the power entrusted to those who have assumed the mantel of civil and national authority…entrusted to us at the moment of baptism as we hear from this prayer from the Baptism ceremony:
The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
has freed you from sin,
given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit,
and welcomed you into his holy people.
He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation.
As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King,
so may you live always as a member of his body,
sharing everlasting life.
We share in the power of Jesus Christ the King of Kings who rules the world from His throne of the Cross...who insisted...I have come not to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many...and this too is what we are meant to do...serve others by giving to them the love of Jesus Christ...as we hear from today’s Psalm:
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
Establishing the presence of Christ in one’s life by faith is to cultivate the peace that will improve the condition of the environments one occupies and people one encounters and pray for every day.
The Three Kings are described as being overjoyed when they saw the star at last come to rest over that Bethlehem cave…that was a star…what must have been their joy, their awe and wonder when entering they beheld first and foremost…a husband and wife adoring their child…a family so beautifully and deeply in love with each other…
what sentiments of peace and holiness that must have inspired in these gift bearing men who would leave having been given the ultimate gift themselves…the honor of doing their King, their Lord and Savior homage…and thus being filled with so great and humbling a love…that brought back to their own people…how different then would their approach to ruling and power would have been…perhaps in this very same spirit:
Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
Those three kings had this incredible experience because they traveled afar and entered that cave…reminding us…we to must continue to make the effort…travel and enter Church…adore Christ…pray…and receive the gift of His peace…His whole life…body, blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist…our hearts made into the shape of a crib…where Christ will sleep and reign in Heavenly peace.