Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

On this Christmas Eve, I find the immortal words of Charles Wesley appropriate (since it still is his 300th anniversary). Further, what carol presents the gospel more, and what is more grounded in scriptural language? The first 3 verses are the most familiar, but the latter two are very good as well.

Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with the angelic host proclaim,
'Christ is born in Bethlehem.'
Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a Virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see:
hail, the incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.

Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace:
hail, the Sun of Righteousness.
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.
Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
fix in us thy humble home;
rise, the woman's conquering seed,
bruise in us the serpent's head;
now display thy saving power,
ruined nature now restore,
now in mystic union join
thine to ours and ours to thine.
Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
stamp Thine image in its place:
second Adam from above,
reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
formed in each believing heart.
Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Our Own Advent!

Amy gave birth to Katherine Elaine Saturday morning, December 15, at 4:18 a.m. She was in a hurry to see the world, because we only checked into the hospital at 3:00! All went well, and she and Amy are both doing fabulously. You can't see it through her hat here, but she has lots of hair! She was six pounds, nine ounces, and 19 1/2 inches long. We'll be home tomorrow morning. To quote Amy, "Labor really wasn't too bad. It was kind of like running a marathon." It was highly appropriate having a baby, though, during the season of Advent! It's hard to sing all those advent hymns without thinking of Kate (until they get to the Christological language).

Friday, December 07, 2007

St. Ambrose of Milan

Today is the feast of St. Ambrose (340-397), one of the early Doctors of the Church. Ambrose was a governor in northern Italy, and became bishop of Milan on December 7 after he made peace with the Arians (who denied the deity of Christ) and Athanasians (who affirmed the Trinity) when they were fighting over who would be the next bishop. Through his subsequent preaching, most of that district was converted to the Athanasian position. Ambrose was also the person who led Augustine to his conversion (as told in his Confessions).

Ambrose was further famous for his hymnwriting abilities. His hymns are some of the earliest that are extant. When Arian soldiers wished to enter his church to worship, he famously barricaded the door with his congregation and gave them Trinitarian hymns to sing. The soldiers felt unable to harm hymn-singing people, and so were prevented from entering. Many (if not all) of Ambrose's hymns include a last verse praising the Trinity, a helpful feature for someone battling Arianism.

One of Ambrose's hymns that is still sung currently is an Advent hymn, Veni, Redemptor gentium. It has been translated a few times, but the one I know is the translation of John Mason Neale, whom you might remember from before. It is usually sung to the tune PUER NOBIS NASCITUR, a 15th century tune harmonized by Michael Praetorius. Note its very strong emphasis on the twofold nature of Christ (especially verses four through six).

Come, Thou Redeemer of the earth,
And manifest Thy virgin birth:
Let every age adoring fall;
Such birth befits the God of all.

Begotten of no human will,
But of the Spirit, Thou art still
The Word of God in flesh arrayed,
The promised Fruit to man displayed.

The virgin womb that burden gained
With virgin honor all unstained;
The banners there of virtue glow;
God in His temple dwells below.

Forth from His chamber goeth He,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now His course to run.

From God the Father He proceeds,
To God the Father back He speeds;
His course He runs to death and hell,
Returning on God’s throne to dwell.

O equal to the Father, Thou!
Gird on Thy fleshly mantle now;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.

Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
And darkness breathe a newer light,
Where endless faith shall shine serene,
And twilight never intervene.

All laud to God the Father be,
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To God the Holy Paraclete.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Advent Arrives Again

The church year began again this past Sunday (year A, for all you Matthew fans). At church I was glad to sing Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, one of my favorites to sing and play. This Advent is special, however, for it also contains the 300th birthday of Charles Wesley. Born December 18, 1707, Wesley has left us with a corpus of some of the most wonderful English hymn texts in existence, both doctrinally and experientially.

Charles is sometimes overshadowed by his brother John, but Charles was heavily involved in what would become the Methodist denomination. His hymns are perhaps better known to many today than are John's sermons. He is credited with anywhere between 5500 and 6500 hymn texts, depending on the source. I've discussed one of my favorites before, but Charles has also left us with some wonderful Advent and Christmas texts, perhaps the most famous "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

This Sunday, however, we sang the Advent text "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus." It is usually set to the tune HYFRYDOL, although I did find it set to STUTTGART and a couple of others. Something that I like about Wesley's hymns is that each of them has such a strong proclamation of the gospel. This one is no exception.

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.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.