Reader JohnM de France wrote:
I do not know if this will be of interest to you, James. I wrote it two years ago to a friend. Please feel free to use it.
Most people see me as a cool, calm and collected person. When I lived in Scotland I was a member of an amateur dramatics club and if I was not involved in a production (I was often the Stage Manager) the other members who were acting used to beg me to come and watch the first night. “John” they used to say, “You exude an aura of calm, nothing seems to faze you. If there is a problem, you, without any fuss or panic, solve it; and bring calm to a situation where panic may spread amongst us”.
But in music all is different as I want to tell you that, I hope, you will enjoy.
Here is a ‘happening’ from Christmas Eve 2017.
When I was with the Salvation Army I loved to go carol singing and playing in the band. Whilst I was a Stocksbridge (Yorks) I was introduced to the carol “O come, O come Emmanuel” and it has been a favourite of mine ever since. The 12th century music coupled with very sensitive words exemplifies the yearning of the Jews for the Messiah to come and to break the control of the ‘god of this world’ (Satan) who was causing them so much sorrow and grief. I cannot sing it without it bringing tears to my eyes and hurt to my heart. I, too, plead to God with them.
My studies of the history of the Holy Land have given me a good understanding of the land and the people. The Gospels paint a picture of Jesus able to travel around Galilee without any problems. It is only when he goes to Judea (southern Palestine where Jerusalem is situated) that we read of any trouble. That is a travesty of the truth.
If we consider the brutality of when Herod was King we gain a glimpse of his cruelty in the Gospels when he is prepared to kill all under two-year-old boys in Bethlehem, but he was much worse than that. Josephus (a Jewish historian – born 36/37 AD and died 98/100 AD) give details of the sadistic, murdering capabilities of this psychopath. He, personally, murdered at least one of his wives and several of his own children; other family members he had killed by his command.
Caesar Augustus is recorded by a Roman historian having said, “It was better to be an animal in the court of Herod than to be one of his family”. He was a monster who enjoyed watching (and participating in) the torture of anyone who displeased him. Anyone who did, or said, anything that was contrary to his wants would be seized by his Police and brought to the Palace at Jerusalem.
The usual mode of events was to be thrown in prison, tortured until you confessed, then, you were flogged. The whip had five leather thongs with sharp bones attached to then that tore open the flesh and muscle. If you did not die during the torture or shortly afterwards, you were left in prison for 10 to 14 days so that you might ‘enjoy’ the excruciating pain of your back and sides. Herod and the guards certainly enjoyed your screeching and groaning. The final part of you life was probably the most humane – you were hanged or crucified.
Herod died in 4 BC and a sigh of relief was uttered by most Jews. Herod’s kingdom was divided amongst his three sons. Judea drew the short straw in that they had Archelaus as their new prince (Augustus did not permit the three sons to be kings). The cliché “Like Father, Like Son” was true. He was just as brutal and sadistic as his father. Fortunately he was financially ignorant, claimed that Judea could not raise the taxes that Rome demanded and was deposed in 6 AD.
Rome appointed a Roman as Prefect and a census (as recorded in Luke’s gospel) was held to determine the value of taxes that Judea must pay to the Roman exchequer. If the Jews thought that their life would improve, they were sadly mistaken. Each Prefect came, made as much money as possible and went.
Each Prefect was more brutal and rapacious than the one before. The last one, before the war between the Jews and the might of Rome (66 – 70AD) seemed to have been specially sent to provoke the Jews into rebellion. All during this period there was bands of ‘outlaws’ who lived by stealing, murder and terror.
The scriptures of the Jews (what we refer to as the Old Testament) predicted that a Messiah will come and free the Jews from bondage, and, during these years, expectation was rife. Many came claiming to be the Messiah; there were; Thaddeus who claimed that he, with God’s help would part the waters just as Joshua had done when the children entered the promised land: another man only known as ‘The Egyptian”; there were Judas of Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth; John ben Zechariah, Simon ben Boethus, and others: all came; all failed and all were killed by the Roman Army.
Each was like a shooting star, a sudden blaze of light that was seen by only a few people and then it was dark again as if the star had never been.
It was with these thoughts that I approached last Christmas and “O come, O come, Emmanuel”. I always try to listen to the “Nine Lessons and Carols” from Kings College; listening for “my” carol. This year was no exception.
However during the broadcast the Water Meter-Reader came and I had to move some wood in my workshop so that he could see the meter, thus I missed ten minutes, or so. I did not hear “my” carol, so, that evening, I searched out a recording on YouTube.
As it played I saw, in my mind’s eye, a simple country family in 66AD ; Shimon (Simon), his wife Miriam (Mary); their 12 year-old daughter Elishabet (Elisabeth) and the two 8 year-old boys Yehannon (John) and Yuda (Juda or Judas).
After a simple meal at the beginning of Shabbat (Sabbath, Friday evening); Shimon lit the three lamps on the lampstand that had been made by his Grandfather just before he was arrested and tortured to death by Herod’s solders.
It was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when one of the High Priest’s sons was stabbed to death.
Shimon knelt down to pray; Elishabet, as usual, at his side and Miriam the other side of Elishabet. Both parents had an arm around their daughter. Yehannon was cuddled closely by his Dad, Yuda had his arms around his “New” Mum’s neck. Shimon was so please that young Yuda had settled in with them after his parents were killed as they tried to stop a group of Lestai (bandits) from stealing their sheep. He was content with the closeness of Yuda and Miriam.
Shimon let out a sigh and started to pray:-
O Come, O come Emmanuel
And bring peace to Israel.
We have waited so long
For Mushiach (Messiah) to come,
The Mushiach of Aaron and David.
Are we to believe that, like the gods opposing
The prophet Elisha,
That you have turned your face away from us?
Open your Kingdom, we pray, for we are weary of waiting.
Have you forgotten your chosen ones?
Father we seek the fulfillment of your promises.
O Protector of Israel we plead with you,
We seek you…..We seek you…We seek you.
Shimon was so full of emotion he could not continue, so Miriam’s more confident voice took up the yearning.
O come Emmanuel.
When your people were in Egypt they cried out to You
And You heard, and You acted.
Send us, we pray, another Moshes (Moses)
He will take away our pain, our terror, our fear and distress.
All around us is fighting and bloodshed.
We have heard that the Roman Army is massing north of Galilee.
Are you going to let them destroy your people?
Act now, Father, and save us.
For the first time in her life Elishabet spoke at family prayers.
Abba, Father; we love you and worship you.
Please help us….Please help us…
After this simple prayer Elishabet started to cry. Little Yehannon put his arms around his sister, but she was inconsolable and started to sob. Little sobs to begin with, then becoming deeper and deeper until it seemed that her whole little body was wracked with pain……
…..It was at this moment that my imagination stopped and I found that it was not little Elishabet who was weeping and sobbing with sorrow and yearning – it was me. The music, the words and my imagination provoked such emotion in me. I so wanting the Messiah to come to lead the Jews; but he did not come then: and, I fear, that he will never come.
As I type these words I feel the tears returning such that I can hardly see the keyboard.
Here are my notes, or rather Wiki’s:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is a Christian hymn for Advent and Christmas. It is a translation of a Latin hymn, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, itself a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons, a series of plainchant antiphons attached to the Magnificat at Vespers over the final days before Christmas.
The 1861 translation from Hymns Ancient and Modern is the most prominent by far in the English-speaking world, but other English translations also exist. Translations into other modern languages (particularly German) are also in widespread use.
Readers, don’t forget the notes under the youtubes themselves at their site.