The first recording of Do You Hear What I Hear? was made by the Harry Simeone Chorale shortly after Thanksgiving 1962, and sold so well during that Christmas season that Bing Crosby eventually recorded it also — making it, by means of his star power, a mega-hit.
Here is that very first choral recording:
The song had been composed only a month or so before, during the thirteen days of the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, when — and I still have vivid childhood memories of this — the world seemed to be within hours of a nuclear war between John F. Kennedy’s United States and Nikita Krushchev’s Soviet Union. It was written as a plea for peace, and that can clearly be heard in the words.
The lyrics of the song are constructed somewhat like a game of “telephone,” with the news of Christ’s birth being related by the night wind to a lamb, by the lamb to a shepherd boy, by the shepherd boy to a king, and by the king to people everywhere. At each level, the nature of the message changes somewhat, becoming more specifically focused on Christ.
For Day Thirteen of the “Light the World” initiative:
Maybe your life resembles a Bethlehem stable. Crude in some spots, smelly in others. Not much glamour. Not always neat. People in your circle remind you of stable animals: grazing like sheep, stubborn like donkeys, and that cow in the corner looks a lot like the fellow next door. You, like Joseph, knocked on the innkeeper’s door. But you were too late. Or too old, sick, dull, damaged, poor, or peculiar. You know the sound of a slamming door.
“There are only two places where the powerful and great in this world lose their courage, tremble in the depths of their souls, and become truly afraid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. . . . No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle of Bethlehem. And yet, all Christian theology finds its beginnings in the miracle of miracles, that God became human.”
“One response was given by the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph wanted to find a room where the Child could be born. The innkeeper was not hostile; he was not opposed to them, but his inn was crowded; his hands were full; his mind was preoccupied. This is the answer that millions are giving today. Like a Bethlehem innkeeper, they cannot find room for Christ. All the accommodations in their hearts are already taken up by other crowding interests. Their response is not atheism. It is not defiance. It is preoccupation and the feeling of being able to get on reasonably well without Christianity.”