Perhaps a dozen people from our church went caroling this week at a small community hospital. There were several young people in our group, as well as Grace, a disabled woman in a wheel chair whose voice is often garbled but whose face is radiant with the joy of the Lord.
The census was down, as it often is the week of Christmas, so after we sang to the few patients there, we found ourselves singing to the staff, including a couple of very embarrassed young women in house-keeping. They giggled when we asked if they had a favorite carol, and said they liked them all. But when pressed, the best they could come up with was Jingle Bell Rock. It wasn’t on our song sheet, so they had to be content with Jingle Bells. Neither of them, of course, are carols at all.
A carol is a religious folk song or hymn associated with Christmas, and the most known and most loved include Joy to the World, Silent Night, O Holy Night, The First Noel, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. All of these were on our song sheet. But Jingle Bells was too, the only non-religious song for which we had all the words, although frankly almost any song has religious significance if you dig deep enough, especially love songs.
In Jingle Bells there is fun, laughter and love, the object of which is Miss Fanny Bright. And while the real Christmas story involves a certain amount of solemnity, it is doubtlessly the greatest love story ever told, a story large enough to include any amount of laughter in its larger joy. In fact any love song reminds us that what we really want for Christmas, and what we really got for Christmas, is the connection between God and man.
Not to make too much of it, if I haven’t already, it is not until we have gotten into our own drifted bank and “then we got upsot” that we actually recognize the One for whom our soul longs. Even in its most secular manifestations, Christmas reminds us that there is something more. It is indeed a Holy Day.
When we go out to carol, our hope is that in a season marked by waiting and longing people will notice the manger. Our culture may have pushed it out of the town square, but it is always there in the corners of our consciousness. So in the rush there may be a pause, and in the pause there will be a question: What is the meaning of all this? Even if it begins with “the jingle hop,” this question leads ultimately to joy and awe. And to Jesus.
When we finished our rendition of Jingles Bells, the young woman who requested it laughed and suggested we put Jingle Bell Rock on our list for next year. “You need a little hip action,” she joked. But I couldn’t help noticing that as we walked away she tore open the little envelope we gave her, which offered a much more complete version of the one true Story.
Maybe next year she will want something more wonderful. And He will be there, with all the laughter and love she could ever desire.
Jingle Bells was written in 1850 by James Lord Pierpont and published under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh” in 1857. Even though it is now associated with Christmas it was originally written for Thanksgiving. Often purported to be written for a Sunday school, it was probably a little too racy for that venue.
One of the most recorded and most popular secular holiday songs every recorded, it was the first song broadcast from space, in a Christmas-themed prank by Gemini 6 astronauts on December 16, 1965.