This carol’s beautiful words are thrilling even without the music. Which is just as well, since it’s from the 4-CD set “A Celebration of Christmas: Carols through the Ages” by the Alfred Deller Consort, which I can’t find on the web anywhere. If you find it, don’t let it slip away. It has dozens of lovely songs, many English carols as well as medieval Christmas motets and chants.

People, Look East

People, look East, the time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth, and set the table.
People, look East, and sing today:
Love, the Guest, is on His way.

Furrows, be glad, though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look East, and sing today:
Love, the Rose, is on His way.

Birds, though ye long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen,
He for fledging-time has chosen.
People, look East, and sing today:
Love, the Bird, is on His way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim,
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look East, and sing today:
Love, the Star, is on His way.

Angels, announce to man and beast
Him who cometh from the East.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look East, and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on His way.

Today we tend to think of the West as the location of happiness and salvation. The “West” is the stronghold of freedom and democracy. In Celtic mythology, the Blessed Islands were in the West, as well as Avalon in Arthurian legend, and Atlantis. In Tolkien’s mythology, the men of Westernesse coming from Numenor (a version of Atlantis) were the heroes, and the elves longed to return to their home in the western sea.

But in the Bible, the East is significantly associated with God’s presence. The gate of the Garden of Eden faced the east, where God placed the cherubim with a flaming sword after Adam and Eve were cast out because of their sin. Isaiah 63, referring to Christ, says, “Who is this that cometh from Edom [east of Jerusalem], with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” And when Jesus, who reconciled us to God,¬†ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives, which is on the east side of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the angels promised his disciples, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) The early church interpreted this to mean that Christ would return from the east, where he ascended; so Orthodox churches are built facing the east, and early Christians used to be buried facing the East, so that they would be ready for the Second Coming.

People, look East, and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on His way.

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