Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Sufferer's Holiday

Can you relate to the meme?

And who knew? There is actually a word for it!

mondegreen [mändəɡrēn]
"a word or phrase resulting from the mishearing of another word or phrase, especially in a song or poem"

It's that song lyric that makes total sense to us in our heads but is not even close to what was originally written or is being sung.


  • Jefferson Starship didn't build a city on sausage rolls (although I would move to a place like that in a minute! It was rock and roll!)
  • Abba could probably care less if Jackie Chan ever reconsidered ("If you change your mind, Jackie Chan...")
  • Guns N' Roses wasn't asking for a ride to Las Vegas ("Take me down to the pair of dice city...")
  • The Monkees weren't planning on ditching their girlfriend after finally meeting her ("Then I saw her face, now I'm gonna leave her!")
  • And CCR never gave anybody directions to the restroom, at least not in a song! ("There's a bathroom on the right.")

To be fair, mondegreens aren't really my issue when it comes to song lyrics (although I will admit, for years I was confident that Lucille left her husband with four hundred children and a crop in the field!)

No, my problem is that I just don't pay attention. (I'm sure my wife loves me admitting that!) Many times, I hear without listening, especially when it comes to music... which means I end up doing my fair share of making up words, or just simply humming through them.

You don't believe me? Ask my family sometime what song I'm referring to with the 'lyrics,' "Bangkok, city do-do-do!"

It's no wonder, then, that when I finally learned (and really not all that long ago) what the lyrics were referencing in one of my favorite Christmas carols, I was a little taken aback!

As I've said before, some of my favorite Christmas songs are in the minor key. I wrote about O Come, O Come Emmanuel last week, but today, I want to focus on The Coventry Carol.

Here's a link to the song performed by Alison Moyet. This has been my go-to version ever since I purchased the "A Very Special Christmas" CD over thirty years ago. If you prefer instrumentals, here's a wonderful arrangement by Don Gillis, performed by Carolina Brass (the brass quintet featuring, for many of us, our favorite trombonist!). If you don't own their Christmas album, buy it! This time of year, for me, would be almost incomplete without listening to it and Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb.

If you're like me and you tend to hear without listening, you might have missed the carol's lyrics as well.

Herod the King, in his raging / Charged he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight / All children young to slay.

That woe is me, poor child, for thee / And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing / "Bye bye, lully, lullay."

Or to quote last week's blog, "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas it's not."

It's referencing the Massacre of the Infants from Matthew's gospel, where King Herod ordered the execution of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of 2.

Now, I can probably guess the question that some of you are asking right about now, because I've asked it myself: "How is that a Christmas carol?"

Well, originally it wasn't. Written in the 16th century, it was not popular in December, but rather in the summer as part of a "Mystery Play" called "The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors." The carol was sung in the play by three mothers of Bethlehem, who come onto the stage with their children immediately after Joseph was warned by an angel to flee and take his family to Egypt.

Tim Stafford, in his article "Violent Night, Holy Night" for Christianity Today, wrote:

"Like many American boys, I learned about Jesus' birth while wearing a bathrobe. Each Advent season I got a part in the Christmas pageant, generally as either a shepherd or a wise man. At the appropriate moment, I shuffled into place and said my line - usually only one, occasionally two.

We worked from original scripts, the accounts in Luke and Matthew, portraying the Incarnation as a real event involving real people. The idea was to show Jesus' birth as history, just as Scripture does. The effort at historical authenticity never went too far. An unusually faithful reproduction would include live sheep.

To the best of my memory, Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents was never included."

With good reason too! I mean, we certainly don't want to put a little boy up in front of the church, wearing a Burger King crown, and watch him swing a cardboard sword, slaying baby dolls.

But it's in the story.

It really happened. (Many would disagree, but I'm not going to get into that right here.)

It happened, and it only reminds us of the darkness of our world that Jesus entered as the Light.

Paul David Tripp says it so much better than I ever could hope to. From Surviving the Holidays:

“If there weren’t pain, suffering, sin, destruction, discouragement, and death, there would be no need for Christmas. This holiday is about suffering. This holiday is about pain.

Now, what we’ve done – and it’s right to do that – we’ve made this a holiday of celebration, because we celebrate the coming of the Messiah. But in so doing, we forget why He came. He came to end suffering. He came to end death. He came to end sin, end brokenness, end pain, and destruction, and discouragement.

And, so, this is the sufferer’s holiday. Rather than the holiday to be avoided, I ought to run toward Christmas! Because what Christmas tells me is, ‘There’s hope for people like me.’ Christmas guarantees that God has, will, and will continue to address what I’m going through.”

Don't miss it.

There is hope for people like you. 

Which means there is hope for people like me.  

So, will you join me in running toward Christmas, and singing the good news:

"Glory in Aunt Chelsa's stable!"

Check that. Let's make sure we get the words right on this one, at least.

"Glory in Excelsis Deo!"

Or "Glory to God in the highest," because... 

"The true light, which gives light to everyone, [has come] into the world." (John 1:9 ESV)

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