Most of us have a favorite Christmas carol or two, and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is at the top of my list. I first heard it on my parents’ Bing Crosby Christmas album back in the '60s.
Said the night wind to the little lamb,
"Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite,
With a tail as big as a kite."
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
"Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea,
With a voice as big as the sea."
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
"Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold—
Let us bring him silver and gold,
Let us bring him silver and gold."
Said the king to the people everywhere,
"Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people, everywhere,
Listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light,
He will bring us goodness and light."
I love the song’s imagery: a dancing star, a shivering child, a song floating above the trees. There’s also something very empowering about the words, as we journey through the steps of seeing, hearing, and knowing. The news of Christ’s birth travels from a soft whisper on the wind to the palace of a mighty king. The news about a star in the East is lifted up by the powerless until it is heard by the powerful. All of God’s creation rises to rejoice at the birth. And the response to God becoming flesh among us is a plea to pray for peace — everywhere.
This song of peace was written in October 1962, with the Cuban Missile Crisis as the backdrop. The Cold War was escalating with the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a heated confrontation over the USSR installing nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles off the Florida coast.
Amid this time of uncertainty, French-born composer Noel Regney found himself walking the streets of Manhattan. The despair in his heart was reflected on the unsmiling faces of the people he passed. Regney was terrified — for his family, his country, and for all of humanity. He had been forced into the German Army in World War II; Regney had experienced the horrors of war firsthand.
He tried to think about something else. Christmas, the time of peace and goodwill, was coming and he’d been asked to write a holiday song.
On his way home, Regney saw two mothers pushing baby strollers. Seeing the infants look at each other and smile, transformed his mood from despair to hope. His mind turned to poetry and babies and lambs. By the time Regney arrived home, he had composed the lyrics of, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
When he got home, he immediately jotted down the lyrics, and asked his wife, Gloria Shayne, to write the music. She later recalled, “Noel wrote a beautiful song and I wrote the music. We couldn’t sing it through; it broke us up. We cried. Our little song broke us up.”
And their little song may break our hearts, too, for its message of peace is as desperately needed in our world today as it was 49 years ago. The song speaks not only to the conflict and unrest in our communities, but also to the elusive peace we struggle to find in our own lives and relationships.
I hope that the next time you hear this song, it will move you to not only pray for peace, but to actively, passionately work to achieve it. Begin in your home, in your church, in your school, or seek opportunities within your community. That “Child sleeping in the night” calls us to share God’s goodness and light with the world.
The Rev. Joanne S. Utley is the pastor of .