Christmas 12: “The rich and poor meet together”

On this night in Shakespeare’s day, there would have been wild revelry to celebrate the twelfth night of Christmas. He even named one of his plays this, a sign perhaps that it was to be performed on the twelfth night, but also a possible nod to the ways that Christmas switches around our ideas of wisdom and foolishness, poverty and wealth. This same inversion is captured for me in the wondrously celebratory first movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, a piece which surprises listeners by placing the recorder, not usually a solo instrument, alongside the violin. It isn’t a Christmas carol in any sense, but I think it’s still a fitting conclusion to our early music Christmas season. It also works well as a soundtrack to one of our texts for today, Proverbs 22:2, which says, “The rich and poor meet together: the LORD is the maker of them.”

“The rich and poor meet together”

Hear this: it’s singing,
joyfully, stridently.
Nothing is as you have thought it to be.

Listen: the king is
enthroned, he is ruling.
Yet see how he rules, how he lays down his crown.

Watch this: the minstrels
sit at the king’s table.
See how the courtiers have no place to lounge.

Listen: recorders
are trilling in triumph.
Come to the feast! (Leave your privilege behind.)

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