Monday, December 25, 2017

Three Wise Women Visit the Baby Jesus

Christmas Carol 2017 

As I ran through the parts to this year’s carol yesterday afternoon, I realized that I have now been composing an annual carol for nearly 20 years. This year, I returned to three-part women’s music, the form I chose for my first carol in 1998. Back then, I had a different last name, and I had not yet discovered music transcription software. A lot of things have changed in 20 years, but my love for this season hasn’t. I still celebrate the god-man whose message of radical love for the stranger and the poor seems especially relevant in 2017. 

In the olden days, we had to write
music out by hand.
This year’s carol was inspired by the #metoo movement and the stories of women that have been suppressed for millennia. I’m certainly not the first person to imagine what a visit from wise women to the baby Jesus might have looked like. In fact, a quick Google search reveals various versions of this meme: “Three wise women would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, brought practical gifts, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and there would be peace on earth.”  There’s also a lovely feminist picture book by Mary Hoffman, which I plan to order as a late Christmas gift for myself.  

I took a different approach when I considered what the lost voices of women would have said to the baby Jesus and his mother. The religious historian Karen Armstrong, in her Short History of Myth, notes that humans need stories to tell us how to conduct our lives. Our current story of Christmas, with its relentless commercialism, is one that Christ—born in a stable, the child of refugees—would not recognize. The man who ostensibly leads our country, elected by self-proclaimed “Christians,” is the antithesis of everything that Christ stood for. 

In my version of the Three Wise Women myth, the women know that men will kill their god. To resurrect Christ in 2017, we have to resurrect the stories that mattered to him (hint: he did not say a single word about gay marriage or abortion, but he said a whole lot about rich people). 

In 2017, I trust the women. Merry Christmas. 

Three Wise Women Visit the Baby Jesus 
(What Child Is This?) 
By Liza Long 

In winter time, three women wise 
Went by the moon’s cold light 
To Bethlehem to see the god
Born under a new star’s light 
The Babe, the Son of Mary 

Each bore a gift for the newborn King 
More rare than silver or gold 
They gave his mother their offering 
And the infant's fate foretold, 
The Babe, the Son of Mary 

First Woman 
I bring a cloth of linen fine 
Hand-made upon the loom 
That weaves the fates of gods and men 
And spells the new god's doom 
The Babe, the Son of Mary 

Second Woman 
I bring a cup of potter’s clay 
Hand-fashioned, fired, and fine 
A cup to share at his last meal 
When his blood becomes the wine. 
The Babe, the Son of Mary 

Third Woman 
I bring a rose that blooms in snow 
Its petals soft and red 
A rose that pricks, with sharp, hard thorns 
That will crown his glorious head 
The Babe, the Son of Mary 

A cloth, a cup, and a rose 
Are the gifts the wise women chose 
For the Babe, the Son of Mary 

Then bring a cloth, a cup, a rose, 
Come peasant, princess to mourn him. 
While wise men kill him, wise women weep 
As they comfort the mother who bore him. 

A cloth, a cup, and a rose 
Are the gifts the wise women chose 
For the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, 
The man, the god, from Galilee 
Who gave his life for you and me: 
The Babe, the Son of Mary. 

The Babe, the Son of Mary.