It wasn’t until 2016, when I had decided to add the Coventry Carol to my Christmas album, that I read the real, heart-wrenching backstory to this piece. It was written for a play performed in the 16th century that centered on Matthew 2, when Herod discovers from the three wise men that there is a special baby born - Jesus, the Messiah, the great King who has been prophesied about for centuries, and who he is sure will eventually try to usurp his throne. So Herod does a horrible thing - since he knows Jesus was born sometime in the last couple years, he orders his soldiers to find and murder all the baby boys in Bethlehem two years old and under, in hopes that Jesus is one of them. This song is the lullaby that the anguished, helpless mothers are singing to their doomed babies.
This part of the circumstances surrounding our Savior’s birth is one that is hard to comprehend, and painful to even think about for very long. We celebrate His birth, and the joy that came with it - the shepherds, the heralding angels, the wise men traveling such a long distance to worship Him. But Herod’s despicable act is also part of this story, and one that is a reminder of what evil is and wants to do in the face of such selfless Love. This, sadly, was also prophesied about in Jeremiah 31, where “a cry was heard in Ramah - weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
In light of that, instead of doing this carol with the classic early music instruments and voices I’d always heard it performed with, I decided to make it a little more contemporary, and a little darker, adding in a synth throughout that creates an underlying tension, the vocals a lament without words, and the haunting guitar (which was beautifully performed by classical guitarist Ryan Cummings).
This Christmas, may we remember that though that kind of evil and hatred exists, this was the whole reason Christ came - to shine His light of hope and love into the darkest, most hopeless corners. Let’s truly celebrate Him, and do all we can to share His love and joy with those around us.