My colleague, our organist and choirmaster, Douglas Macomber, introduced me to this glorious piece which is a part of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols (Opus 28). The text of “This Little Babe” is outstanding, ringing a seldom-heard bell about what Christmas ushers in–the paradox of a baby who conquers through weakness. Our choir sang this at our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. It’s a bit feisty, but I wonder whether we couldn’t re-tune this text for congregational singing. Don’t get me wrong, the original tune and arrangement are spot-on, but they are meant to be performed by a choir and harpist. It would be powerful, in my opinion, if congregations could sing it, too. And, no, those aren’t typos. They’re old English words.
This little Babe so few days old, is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake, though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmed wise the gates of hell he will surprise.
With tears he fights and wins the field, His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries, His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns Cold and Need, and feeble Flesh his warrior’s steed.
His camp is pitched in a stall, His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes; of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound, the angels’ trumps alarum sound.
My soul, with Christ join thou in fight; stick to the tents that he hath pight.*
Within his crib is surest ward; this little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, then flit not from this heavenly Boy.
*”pight” = pitched