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Final word: A Christmas Message

Commissioner Andy Westrupp
Posted December 23, 2018

Commissioner Andy Westrupp takes a stroll down memory lane, looking back at the carols he played as part of The Salvation Army brass band at Dunedin South Corps.

Whenever I sing a Christmas Carol I immediately think of where the music for that carol is in the Christmas Praise tune book—the old green one, that is. This is because I, like many bandsmen and bandswomen of a certain age, mostly only ever participated in carolling from behind an instrument on the back of a truck.

No. 1, ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’; No.2, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’; No.3, ‘Silent Night’, and so on.

Some tunes got played so often we knew the music by heart. We didn’t need to look at the tune book, gripped as it was in the jaws of the persistently wobbly lyre, and supported by a silver bulldog clip on the flappy edge of the page against the December wind. You could guarantee that No. 7, ‘Jingle Bells’, was going to be requested several times during an evening, along with No. 8, ‘Away In A Manger’.

The wishes would be relayed to the bandmaster by a collector and then unceremoniously communicated to the bandspeople on the back of the truck. ‘No.22!’, ‘The First Noel’, and the bandmaster wouldn’t even have to announce that we were to play it twice through. Every carol got played twice through, no more, no less. ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’ has two repeats written into the music anyway—but no deviation, we still played it twice, repeats ‘n’ all.

By the end of a night’s carolling we had had enough. We were carolled out! Our numbed lips struggled to reach the high notes. And our bums were also numbed by the wooden forms tied onto the back of the truck. It was usually cold, too (Dunedin in December can be a tad chilly), and we looked forward to arriving back at the hall, climbing slowly off the truck and putting away our instruments and the forms we’d sat on. Then, after four weeks of carolling leading up to Christmas, we had really had enough for another year! We were thoroughly over jolly ‘Jingle Bells’!

Some of the lesser played tunes accompany some of the most poignant carols. The tunes weren’t requested as often as others because they weren’t as well known. ‘Normandy Carol’ was one of these. Although the bands I played in used this tune often enough, it was hardly ever requested by a member of the public. Do you know the words that accompany this tune?

When wise men came seeking for Jesus from afar,
With rich gifts to greet him and led by a star,
They found in a stable the Saviour of men,
A manger his cradle so poor was he then.
Though laid in a manger he came from a throne,
On earth though a stranger in Heaven he was known,
How lowly, how gracious his coming to earth!
His love my love kindles to joy in his birth.

Just pause for a moment on that audacious claim! ‘Though laid in a manger he came from a throne …’

Christmas these days gets rammed and jammed into spaces that I’m sure Mary and Joseph would never have envisaged. Nevertheless, everyone who is celebrating Christmas in one form or another is, even unintentionally, acknowledging something staggeringly special!

Yes, a baby was born and laid in a manger in Bethlehem, but not just any baby—a baby who was indeed God’s Son. God’s beautiful, astounding gift to us, was a helpless, vulnerable baby who would one day show how much God loves us. Luke 2:10–11 says:

‘But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”.’

May you and your family enjoy celebrating the birth of the Saviour, Jesus. I pray God’s blessing on you and yours this Christmas season. May your hopes and dreams be fulfilled.

Commissioner Andy Westrupp
Territorial Commander