Category Archives: Church Year
For a long while, I’ve disliked “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. Here’s why:
That half step has put a stamp on the tune that says “Made in 1868″. It it’s like listening to a Kanye West song, hearing the auto-tune, and knowing immediately that it was “Made in 2008″.
Normally, there’s not a problem with older things – in fact, many older things are glorious because they seem to bear the weight of history (in a good way) – but 19th Century American hymn tunes haven’t aged well.
It’s a shame, too, because the text for the hymn, written by the great American preacher Phillips Brooks, is glorious.
O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.
Last year, I heard Sarah McLachlan’s slight edit of the tune and immediately caught a new vision for the hymn.
You can purchase the mp3 at AmazonMP3.
McLachlan wasn’t the first to do it – my wife has an arrangement in a Christmas piano book she’s had since she was a child that has eliminated the rogue sharp – but she’s probably the most well known on a broader scale.
A change of a half step has breathed new life into a tired, old tune. I wrote out a quick arrangement for our church and have included it below for anyone who is interested.
Patrick Miller Kirkland (1857-1943) wrote this hymn for Easter evening.
Jesus, Lord, Redeemer,
Once for sinners slain,
Crucified in weakness,
Raised in power, to reign,
Dwelling with the Father,
Endless in thy days,
Unto thee be glory,
Honor, blessing, praise.
Faithful ones, communing,
Towards the close of day,
Desolate and weary,
Met thee in the way.
So, when sun is setting,
Come to us, and show
All the truth: and in us
Make our hearts to glow.
In the upper chamber,
Where the ten, in fear,
Gathered sad and troubled,
There thou didst appear.
So, O Lord, this evening,
Bid our sorrows cease;
Breathing on us, Savior,
Say, ‘I give you peace.’
Here’s the closing prayer:
Master, this day is our day to stand and look. To be amazed and disturbed. This is a day to put away glad songs, and to see the terrible cost of our salvation. This is also a day to believe, and as Watts said, to know what is demanded in the Great Exchange at the heart of the Gospel. Forgive me for living in the shadow of this bloody execution as if it were religious art or a cultural symbol or the inspiration for music or preaching. This is my life, my death, my sin and your love. This is the beating of the heart of a Christian. Give me grace to pause and look. To see, feel, weep and above all, believe and keep on believing. Through Jesus. Amen.
Spurred on by Bruce Benedict’s post Songs for Epiphany, here is an arrangement of At the Name of Jesus to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ outstanding tune, King’s Weston.
Here is a hymn of John of Damascus (circa 6th century) for Easter:
Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought His Israel
Into joy from sadness.
‘Tis the spring of souls today:
Christ hath burst His prison
And from three days’ sleep in death
As a sun hath risen.
Now the queen of seasons, bright
with the day of splendor,
with the royal feast of feasts,
comes its joy to render;
comes to glad Jerusalem,
who with true affection
welcomes in unwearied strains
Neither might the gates of death,
nor the tomb’s dark portal,
nor the watchers, nor the seal
hold thee as a mortal:
but today amidst the twelve
thou didst stand, bestowing
that thy peace which evermore
passeth human knowing.
Alleluia now we cry
to our King Immortal,
who triumphant burst the bars
of the tomb’s dark portal;
alleluia, with the Son
God the Father praising;
alleluia yet again
to the Spirit raising.
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…”
In John chapter 14, the disciple Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” I love the often-clueless boldness of the disciples. Jesus replies to him, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
When Isaiah promised that there would be a child born who was called Immanuel, or “God with us,” even he wasn’t predicting God to be literally with us in the flesh. He had in mind the sense of God being with his people and strengthening them in battle, as with Joshua, or in deliverance, as in the Exodus, or in comfort, as in many of the Psalms, or in worship, as in Solomon’s temple. And Jesus did (and does) all of those things. Yet the wonder of the incarnation of Jesus, and what the New Testament writers go to great pains to tell us, is that beyond anyone’s imagination, God became man and truly lived “with us.”
When Paul writes that “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” he is expanding on this idea of God being with us in the ultimate sense. God was not simply figuratively with us in the teachings of Jesus, but was physically, visibly with us. The wonder of the incarnation – literally, the “enfleshment” – of Jesus is that he who created all things came to us to reconcile us to himself. Though we were lost in sin, he has sought us out. Though we were dead, he has come to give us life.