Tomorrow is Christmas Day. Tomorrow, according to the lyrics of one of the less well-known carols, is Jesus's dancing day. If you have ever actually pondered what this carol might mean and have come up short, or if you have never thought about it at all, I want to share my take on these words.
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
Do you remember school dances? Do you remember anticipating a dance? Men, do you remember working up your courage to take someone to the dance or to ask just the right person for just one dance? Ladies, do you remember hoping against hope to be asked to dance?
You were not thinking about the troubles that might come with the relationship. You were not counting the problems that he or she would cause. You did not worry about what would happen later. All you cared about was getting the chance to dance with just that right person.
And, if you were in love, or thought you were, the thought of the dance made you almost giddy. To dance with your true love when you had never done that before… well, nothing else was like that anticipation.
“Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” is one of those carols that uses imagery that we do not readily embrace in our 21st century language. Like “I Saw Three Ships” or “Fum, Fum, Fum,” this carol may be unsettling to you as you try to make sense of the language.
I am going to take the liberty for a parenthetical. Let me depart from my assigned task for a moment to say that the only way “I Saw Three Ships” makes sense to me is if you attribute it to the old British tale that St. Joseph of Arimathea, who is rumored to have brought the Holy Grail to England after the crucifixion, made an earlier trip to the British Isles, bringing Jesus and Mary with him for a visit. Thus, Bethlehem, which is landlocked and certainly cannot have any ships sail in, is likely a euphemism for Winchester or Cornwall. They arrived on Jesus’s birthday, and there was great rejoicing. Anyway, back to the ranch…
“Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” needs no such euphemism or historical fancy to be quite meaningful. A while back, I blogged here about the hymn-poem “Lord of the Dance.” In that blog, I said this about that text: “The idea of Christ’s actions with James and John, and with the Pharisees, and with those who came to Him for healing as part of a dance takes me theologically to places we seldom explore – how big a picture did Jesus see as He walked the earth? How much of the work of Christ was preordained as the Father and the Son planned this ministry? Which steps were improvised and which were carefully composed ahead of time in order to lead to the next event?”
“Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day,” which dates back to the 1700s or the Middle Ages (depending on which music history source you trust), uses the metaphor of the dance to symbolize Jesus’s life on earth long before “Lord of the Dance” was written. The idea here is that Jesus, who has existed since the beginning of time – remember, in the beginning was the Word – looked forward to His human birth with excitement and anticipation. He was finally going to get to put on some legs and feet and arms and hands, and He was going to get to dance.
Why so excited? After all, being God, He knew that this road only had one end. He was born to die. His dance would be cut short. He was heading to a cross. How many times does this text remind us of the great lengths to which Jesus went to get a chance to dance with us? Knit to man’s nature, birthed between an ox and a silly ass, He came to dance. If you hear a choir actually sing all eleven stanzas, you would remember so much more that Christ endured: temptation in the desert, betrayal by Judas for thirty pieces of silver, His own people crying out “crucify,” the kangaroo court before Pilate, the cross, the spear, the trip to Hell. Why would Jesus possible by gleeful in anticipation of this dance?
The answer to that question, my friends, is the key to this carol. Jesus was excited, giddy even, to enter our world because He loves us. He was getting the chance to touch us, to move with us, to be with us and next to us. He was getting ready to dance with us.
How many times does this text call us His true love? This carol speaks to me because it repeatedly says that Jesus looks at you and me – all of us – as His true love. He is not looking forward to His time on earth as drudgery, as a task, as a chore to carry out because His Father says so. Oh no, Jesus cannot wait, because tomorrow, He gets to dance with His true love.
This carol is Jesus’s exuberant song. Tomorrow, Christmas Day, is the day of the prom, the sock hop to end all sock hops, the royal ball. Jesus has His eyes on His true love, and He simply cannot wait.