My favorite film of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the 1998 TV version with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. Besides being–in my view–the most faithful to the original, there are several little touches about it that I really like.
Perhaps foremost among these is a brief but stirring inclusion of the song, “Silent Night,” during a series of glimpses showing the Ghost of Christmas Present at work. After showing Scrooge the condition of the Cratchits, but before visiting his nephew, Fred, the ghost takes Scrooge on a tour of some of his other rounds of blessings, among the poor in general. Tiny Tim begins the song, and the last of these short scenes is of a group of miners making their way along in the dark, whilst one of them belts out the end of the second verse of the song: “Christ the Savior is born!”
It’s amazing. I’ve never heard it sung that way before or since, but it seems to me now the only natural way to do so. After all (in my church’s hymn book, at least), that line ends with an exclamation mark. We usually sing this song very quietly, but that line really does demand to be declared boldly, announced on the rooftops and by trumpets. And the way it’s sung in this movie…imagine Pavarotti letting fly with some signature opera in a massive coliseum and you might get the picture.
Las Vegas used to have an annual live nativity pageant, put on by the Las Vegas stake of the LDS Church, and what I remember of it now is the part near the end where the shepherds have visited the baby in the manger, and then the narrator reads Luke 2:17, “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” Immediately after this, all the people playing shepherds run out to the bleachers where the audience sit and make a series of impassioned, improvised announcements, to the effect of, “Great news! The Messiah has been born!” or “Jesus Christ was just born! The Savior is here!” The singing of “Silent Night” in that movie reminds me of the joyous enthusiasm of those young actors.
Shouldn’t that be our attitude? This holiday commemorates a major milestone in the eternal victory of good over evil, of mercy and salvation over death and sin. Peaceful reverence certainly has its place, but I do like also seeing some boisterous bravado in our celebration of the Lord’s mortal birth.
“Silent Night” is sung near the end of the clip below: