And on Earth, peace to men of goodwill (via John Denver and the Muppets)

Around this time of year, the sounds of the season are constantly playing in my house and car; Celtic Woman, Straight No Chaser, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and many others are regulars in my playlist.  I love Christmas music, and my very favorite album is the sadly-rather-obscure John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.

We had this album on vinyl when I was a kid, and I learned to use the record player just to be able to play it. It has some darling versions of classic Christmas songs:

  • The Twelve Days of Christmas (BA DUM BUM BUM)
  • Little Saint Nick by Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem (RUN RUN REINDEER)
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Piggy pudding?!?)
  • Silent Night in both German and English, with a brief history of the song

There are also wonderful original songs, most of which I’ve never heard covered by anyone else, which is a shame:

  • The Peace Carol (beautiful flute part)
  • When the River Meets the Sea (more beautiful flute)
  • A Baby Just Like You (can you tell I play flute?)
  • Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913

This last one is my favorite track on the album.  It is a solo by John Denver–no Muppets, therefore less interesting to me as a kid.  But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it to be one of the most meaningful Christmas songs I know.  The lyrics are adapted from a poem of the same name by Robert Bridges (which is now in the public domain).

Noel: Christmas Eve 1913

Robert Bridges, 18441930

Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis 

A frosty Christmas Eve 
   when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone 
   where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village 
   in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me 
   peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds 
   ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above 
   with stars was spangled o’er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep 
   that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching 
   by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields 
   and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels 
   or the bright stars singing.

Now blessed be the tow’rs 
   that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer 
   unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders 
   (said I) an’ our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ 
   in the belfries to-night
With arms lifted to clutch 
   the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above 
   and the mad romping din.

But to me heard afar 
   it was starry music
Angels’ song, comforting 
   as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly 
   to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me 
   by the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured 
   as I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect 
   of th’ eternal silence.

The song distills it beautifully into three shorter stanzas:

A frosty Christmas Eve, when the stars where shining
I traveled for the home, where westward falls the hill
And for many, many a village, in the darkness of the valley
Distant music reached me, peels of bells were ringing.

Then spread my thoughts to olden times, to that first of Christmases
When shepherds who were watching, heard music in the fields
And they sat there and they marveled, and they knew they could not tell
Whether it were angels, or the bright stars a-singing

But to me heard a far, it was starry music
The singing of the angels, the comfort of our Lord
Words of old that come a traveling, by the riches of the times
And I softly listened, as I stood upon the hill
And I softly listened, as I stood upon the hill

Because you probably just skipped reading that wall of text, I’ll sum up.  The narrator is out walking and hears the church bells ringing for Christmas.  The music, seeming to come from the sky, reminds him of how the angels appeared singing to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus.  He feels their words (Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis = peace to men of goodwill) speaking to him through the Christmas bells.

It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one that gets at the heart of the Christmas season.  It’s a time to pause and appreciate what we have, the beauty of nature and humanity, and let peace fill out hearts, even at the darkest time of year.

So to all you people of goodwill, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you peace–now and throughout the year to come.

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3 thoughts on “And on Earth, peace to men of goodwill (via John Denver and the Muppets)

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