Monthly Archives: December 2006
This Little Babe, a victorious poem for Christmas morning, by Robert Southwell.
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 made 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, hay stalks 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 the heavenly boy.
Here is a recording of a setting of the poem by Benjamin Britten.
Three weeks ago two of my roommates and I attended a choral service for the first week in Advent at the Anglican Cathedral in downtown Orlando. I will confess up front my love for Anglican church music and for good choral music in general. Following the service one roommate and I discussed how many people dismiss traditional choral and organ music as old and irrelevant when, in fact, they are reacting more against the quality of the music than the content of it. (The same could be said for those who dismiss praise bands and pop-style vocal ensembles. I’ll grant that it is often frustrating to try to find high quality congregational music of any genre in many churches today.)
The service was sung extremely well by a well-prepared choir and the Advent readings were spoken with reverence and awe (to steal a phrase from our RTS librarian). A majority of the singing was done by the choir from the choir loft in the rear of the nave. While I have some pretty well-developed views on the role of the choir and the role of the congregation in corporate worship (which I will write on in the future), the use of the choir was not a distraction. It truly felt that we in the congregation were participating in their song as we prayerfully read the words (and translations) provided in the Order of Worship.
Despite all of this wonderful music and ceremony, the most moving portions of the service for me were when the congregation rose and added our voices to the choir in several hymns. I will probably remember for years the feeling of the final verses of “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending”. The organ played with full ranks, the room being thick with incense (in fact, there was more smoke in that cathedral than in a circa-1970s biker bar with Waylon Jennings playing on the jukebox!), the congregation sang the melody and the choir added the harmony as we sang and prayed for the return of the Lord. It was a powerful, powerful moment for me as I was in the thick of studying and writing on Revelation and considering this year’s Advent in light of the future return of Christ.
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favoured sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.
John Cennick and Charles Wesley’s hymn instantly became one of my favorites. It captures the glory and the majesty of the return of Christ in a way that I haven’t often seen. It reminds us that in the midst of our Christmas celebrations and songs of Mary and her baby, shepherds and angels, kings and stars, we still await the final consummation of all things. Christmas approaches but so does the return of Christ. As we celebrate his first coming, let us also look for his second coming in glory; we are another Advent season closer.
“Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!”
If you don’t have a recording of “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending” (to the tune Helmsley), consider shelling out the 99¢ (for American readers) that it would cost to purchase the hymn on iTunes.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung,
of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a flow’ret bright, amid the cold of winter,
when half-spent was the night.
Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
when half-spent was the night.
from Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
I recently used an iTunes gift certificate (thanks to my sister for my birthday present) to purchase a recently released collection of music for Advent. It’s a great album and contains a wonderful performance of what might now be my favorite Advent hymn (but I’ll write on that in a few weeks).
Immediately following an instrumental setting of “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light” (the quartet of oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon was a nice choice), the strings come in with the famous first notes of “And the Glory of the Lord” from Handel’s Messiah. This, in and of itself, is not a surprising thing. It is not an odd thing to hear this piece sung during Advent programs. However, this time the stirring words that first appear in the basses rang clearer than I think I’ve ever experienced them before. Most of us know this much of the text:
And the glory, the glory of the Lord
Shall be reveal-ed
And all flesh shall see it together
But we miss the crux of the song. How do we know that we will see the glory of the Lord?
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it!
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. In Advent, we don’t only celebrate that Christ came but also that his coming represents the fulfillment of what the Lord had spoken. The promises that the Lord makes are good and true and will come to fruition. What he has said is trustworthy. He came the first time, just as he said, and he will come again, just as he said.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it!
Recently, I’ve been reading and studying a lot in the book of Revelation. Or rather, as it gives its own title, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It’s been a focus of two of my classes this past semester and has been on the forefront of my mind (in no small part due to the two papers I am currently writing on aspects of the book). How we see the return of Jesus Christ and how we read what he showed to John has a dramatic impact on how we live and how we worship.
The previous paragraph seems like an odd way to begin a post entitled “Advent 1″. It would be much more effective to begin with one of the prophecies from Isaiah or one of the Psalms or the account of Gabriel’s visit to Mary and her song that follows. Why haven’t I chosen, then, to use those passages? Certainly, those would be effective ways to begin an entry for Advent, and they certainly have their place, but I’m afraid that in the middle of all of the wreaths, candles and preparations for Christmas, we forget why Revelation is just as important an Advent reading as Isaiah or Luke. The Christian calendar isn’t defined by the biggest shopping day of the year or the biggest day of the year for returns (because we packed on a few more pounds in the past 12 months than our families accounted for); it’s defined by preparation for the coming of Christ and celebration of his arrival.
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
These aren’t just words that we sing to little baby Jesus who we’re waiting to place in the manger in our home nativity scenes. Even when we do well to use Advent as a time of preparation for the celebration of the coming of Christ at Christmas, we often forget that that’s not the only coming of Christ. We may confess with the Nicene Creed that “he shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” but in the real world, where theology really happens, we don’t let it change us.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child, and yet a king,
born to reign in us for ever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
This Advent, don’t only pray that our hearts aren’t overcome by the rampant materialism in our society, especially at Christmastime. Don’t stop with the prayer that asks that the glory of the incarnation will make our hearts alive as we celebrate Advent and Christmas. Pray those things! But also pray that we will be faithful, like the saints and martyrs in heaven pictured in Revelation. Pray that our songs, like theirs, would be directed to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. Pray that we might “find our rest”, as Charles Wesley wrote well, in Jesus – the one who was born in humility and will return in glory.