Finding a Voice

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Love Came Down at Christmas

A few days ago my pastor asked if I would sing something at our Christmas Eve service. Definitely! I've been steeping in so many ideas for Christmas songs and concerts and musicals, it feels natural to sing out of that overflow -- though many of these ideas will have to wait for next year to really find a place.


I thought it would be fun to write a new song -- perhaps set a Madeleine L'Engle poem to music. My friend Dara laughed at and identified with my enthusiasm and suggested that maybe I have too many other things to do! she was right.


Well, I didn’t write an entire new song, but the song I fell upon needed some reworking. I posted the lyrical quandary on my Facebook status, Nick Suen from Vancouver responded in a message, and we dialogued about it.

Several recording artists (Jars of Clay, Ali Matthews, Shawn Colvin) have done compelling versions of this song, but they all leave out verse two about worship, omitting/avoiding the tension and the question and some of the grandeur -- sentimentalizing it in my opinion. Moya Brennan retains it. Granted, the original wording is cumbersome and hard to understand for today's audience. I decided to update it, especially the question, without losing the gorgeous poetry. Here are the original verses two and three:


Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:

But wherewith for sacred sign?


Love shall be our token

Love be yours and love be mine

Love from God to all of us

Love for plea and gift and sign


At first I considered, “what shall we use as a sacred sign?” but “use” isn't right. It's utilitarian for one thing and lacks the right connotation. I also decided to take liberties with the next verse to improve the parallelism and help listeners "get it" more clearly. Also, Nick said “sacred sign” felt cryptic, at least in the place where it originally occurred.


It was a relief to finally read Nick’s response: “perfect! I thought about 'gift' but abandoned it prematurely. I think it works: what will be our gift and sign. I like it.”


So this was the final result:


Love came down at Christmas (Christina Rossetti)


Love came down at Christmas
Love, all lovely, love divine
Love was born at Christmas
Star and Angels gave the sign

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:

What shall be our gift and sign?


Love shall be our token

Love shall be our sacred sign

Love from God to all of us

Love be yours and love be mine

posted by Colleen McCubbin at 7:43 PM

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