The Newborn. Georges de la Tour, 1640’s

Today’s Bible reading

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. — Matthew 2:11

More thoughts for meditation

Ceremony with the church in Provence on Christmas Eve.

“Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” (French: Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle) originated in the Provence region of France in the 16th century. The carol was first published in France, and was later translated into English in the 18th century. The tune was originally dance music for the French nobility. It was likely plucked from history by the composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier to use with these words.

The song evokes the tradition of erecting a crèche in the village square to honor the Christ Child and the many traditions surrounding midnight mass on Christmas Eve. In the carol, visitors to the stable have to keep their voices down so the newborn can enjoy his dreams. To this day people in Provence, especially children, put on plays depicting the Christmas story and carry torches and candles to midnight mass, often singing this carol – or so we who have not been to Provence are told.

The journey of Advent moves toward our own experience of entering in, like in the reading for today, toward our own entering into the house and paying homage, worshiping the newborn King. People do not act out the story merely because they like plays (well, some might); sincere believers act it out because they want their behavior to sink into their thoughts and feelings or they want to use a behavior as an expression of their thoughts and feelings. Singing a song like “Bring a Torch” may test one’s ability to enter in, since it is from a foreign culture to Americans, it is old, and it has been reduced to lovely background musak in Target. But you can probably do hard things in the cause of entering in. The wise men came from Persia, Jesus came from oneness with God.

Suggestions for action

Use the song to enter in. The version below is slower than we usually hear it (and in French! — with translation below). Don’t just use it as an interesting mental exercise, let it slow you down and hush you up. It could be the hush of a bygone time when car alarms were not going off. It could be the hush of awe as you realize who this baby is again. It could be the hush of respect because you should stop talking and thinking about yourself as if you are the center of all stories.

Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabelle!
Bring a torch, to the stable call
Christ is born. Tell the folk of the village
Jesus is born and Mary’s calling.
Ah! Ah! beautiful is the Mother!
Ah! Ah! beautiful is her child

It is wrong when the child is sleeping,
It is wrong to talk so loud.
Silence, now as you gather around,
Lest your noise should waken Jesus.
Hush! Hush! see how he slumbers;
Hush! Hush! see how fast he sleeps!

Softly now unto the stable,
Softly for a moment come!
Look and see how charming is Jesus,
Look at him there, His cheeks are rosy!
Hush! Hush! see how the Child is sleeping;
Hush! Hush! see how he smiles in dreams!