A Post from last Christmas that seems most timely…Come, Emmanuel (#2)

 

As the anticipation, the “Watching and waiting, looking above” continues, we move (backward) to the first verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  Perhaps, this is the most poignant of this hymns litany of verses, with its begging and pleading for Messiah to come…little did they know just what that Messiah would look like.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O, Israel.

O-Come-EmmanuelAs I stated in last week’s blog, each verses gives us a glimpse into a different prophecy, a different Name identified in scripture.  “Emmanuel” meaning “God is With Us” (or even better translated “God is With us Now”, we know well from the prophecy of Isaiah which is reiterated in Matthew & Luke’s account of the birth narrative. (Is. 7:14, Mt 1:23)

 

Musically speaking, this hymn, and namely this opening verse and its significance is inextricably tied to its role in the great “O” Antiphons.  Hymnologist J.R. Watson provides a context for the antiphons included on the second page after the hymn in the most recent printing of the United Methodist Hymnal: “The antiphons, sometimes called the ‘O antiphons’ or ‘The Great O’s’, were designated to concentrate the mind on the coming Christmas, enriching the meaning of the Incarnation with a complex series of references from the Old and New Testaments.”

Each antiphon begins as follows:

O Sapentia (Wisdom)
O Adonai
(Hebrew word for God)
O Radix Jesse
(stem or root of Jesse)
O Clavis David
(key of David)
O Oriens
(dayspring)
O Rex genitium
(King of the Gentiles)
O Emmanuel

If one were to look at the first letter of the second word of these titles, each with verses translated by John Mason Neale in various hymnals of our time, you’d find an acrostic, SARCORE.  When spelled backward, and this is where the interesting-ness continues, you get “ero cras,” which in the Latin means “I will be present tomorrow.” Every one of the Latin titles anticipating the coming Messiah, Jesus are from the Old Testament except “Emmanuel,” which is found both in Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23, as mentioned above. Matthew quotes Isaiah virtually verbatim—“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel”—with the exception that Matthew adds the phrase: “which being interpreted is, God with us.”

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O, Israel.

I love the longing in the words of this prayer…like Israel amidst it’s waiting for liberation…like those in the 400-year period of silence, waiting for Messiah to come…we too are longing, waiting to be ransomed out of this earthly captivity.  So we wait…but we rejoice, because, like the writer who penned the “rejoice” chorus, we know how the story ends.  Messiah did come…and will come again. IN the meantime, “Maranatha…Lord, come quickly…and thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

We Gather Together…and other Pre-Meal Customs

Each of us have our own special family customs and traditions…be it when you have your thanksgiving meal, driving to see the lights on Christmas Eve, on and on the list could go…My hunch is that for every one of us, there are also different customs for how mealtime begins.

 

I’ve come to appreciate those occasions when I’ve been gathered with friends around the meal table to sing a blessing over our food and our fellowship.  Maybe you have a song or songs that you sing prior to your meal, but one that I’ve sung around the table on a few different occasions (and that was number 1a in the hymnal of my youth) was originally titled “Prayer of Thanksgiving.”  Though it’s largely fallen out of circulation in my hymnological experience, “We Gather Together” has long been considered a hymn invoking and celebrating the blessing of God.

0351=351“We Gather Together” [Find the rest of the story here]
Anonymous 17th-c
entury Dutch, translated by Theodore Baker

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.”

In many hymnals, “We gather together” appears as a Thanksgiving hymn. Perhaps this is because of the opening line and the idea that God is with us regardless of our circumstances. However, the hymn speaks more about God’s providence throughout life’s trial and experience.

This hymn is a late 16th-century expression of celebration of freedom by The Netherlands from Spanish oppression. Like many older hymns, it found its way to North American hymnody through a rather circuitous route.

“It was first published in Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck (1626), a collection by Adrianus Valerius in Haarlem. Austrian Edward Kremser (1838-1914) included it in Sechs Altniederländische Volkslieder (Six Old Netherlands Folksongs) in 1877 for his men’s chorus, all six anonymous songs taken from the Valerius collection 250 years earlier.

According to hymnal editor Carlton Young, the performance of these tunes led to their popularity and the inclusion in many hymnals.
The story extends to the U.S. through Theodore Baker (1851-1934), a New York-born musicologist who studied in Leipzig and authored the famous Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Baker translated the hymn from German for an anthem entitled “Prayer for Thanksgiving” published in 1894. It is from Baker that the hymn gets its traditional Thanksgiving connection.

Some of the political overtones in this hymn faithfully translated by Baker are apparent. Hymnologist Albert Bailey suggests that the phrase, “The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,” is an allusion to the persecution of the Catholic Church under the policies of Spain. Thousands had been massacred and hundreds of homes burned by the Spanish in 1576 during the siege of Antwerp.

In stanza two, the writer states, “so from the beginning the fight we were winning,” stressing that Protestants had always been assured of winning the cause. The truce of 1609 proved that the Lord “wast at our side.”

The final stanza is a series of petitions—

“ …pray that thou still our defender will be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!”

This is an eschatological stanza. The ultimate battle has not been won and will not be won until all battles cease.

An interesting sidebar was that Baker’s anthem inspired another hymn.

A young Julia Cady Cory (1882-1963) heard this text in 1902 at her church, Brick Presbyterian in New York City. Cory’s “We praise thee, O God, our Redeemer, Creator” is a more general hymn of praise and thanksgiving that also uses the Dutch tune KREMSER. Cory’s hymn did not include any reference to nationalism, making it a more general ecumenical hymn of thanksgiving.

Music’s Power to Evoke Hope & Peace

Today is one of those days where so many in the brotherhood of humanity are looking to lean into something…something that will offer a glimmer of hope and a vision of a day when peace will abide.  Music has, time and time again over the course of history, spoken into such situations…and today is no different.  In the wake of such a terrible tragedy as we’re seeing unfold in the events in Paris, France over the last 24 hours, I am reminded of a piece I did with my choir in Atlanta during my first year there.

1910504 (1)The origins of this poem are found in the origins of war…inscribed on a World War II Concentration camp wall, attributed to a  child, composer Z. Randall Stroope  has sewn together the fragments from what was written on a wall in 1943 in Cologne, Germany.  Today, I’m leaning into these words…a piece called “Inscription of Hope.”

“I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love
even when there’s no one there

And I believe in God
even when He is silent
I believe through any trial
there is always a way.

But sometimes in this suffering
and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter
to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me saying
‘hold on my child’

I’ll give you hope
I’ll give you strength
Just stay a little while
I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining

And I believe in love
even when there’s no one there
And I believe in God
even when He is silent

I believe through any trial
There is always a way

May there someday be sunshine
May there someday be happiness
May there someday be love
May there someday be peace.”

We long for the day when no person will ever again have to scrawl out a message of hope on hell’s dark wall – but instead, from a place of realized hope and bright sunshine.

Psalm 34:14, 18
14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it..The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

PAX…

Lead, Kindly Light

leadkindlylightOne of my prayer tools (and it is a serendipitous blessing of helping my poor piano-keyboard skills at the same time) is sitting down and leafing through old hymns and hymnals at the piano.  It reminds me of great music and great hymn-texts of the past and present.  I recently sat down to play-pray and came across a relatively forgotten hymn.  It’s not one I ever remember being sung and I know that I have never led it in church…sure, it’s words are antiquated and challenging; it’s one that’s never sung anymore and probably would be considered “difficult” for churches to sing these days.  But it remains a powerful prayer…a prayer we all need.

Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste

I’ve not blogged in some time, but this 1986 cartoon from Far Side by Gary Larson along with the book I’m reading again may just drive me to it.  A short post for today…

I’m slowly delving in to a book by Frank Burch Brown called Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste that I first read as a wide-eyed first year masters student.  Here is a fantastic quote for today that really has my mind spinning and wanting to read more…and give thanks for the great diversity of music which surrounds us everywhere we go.

“Music is not just a sign of the differences between different groups; it is one of the ways of establishing those differences and showing that they matter.  Neither is music just a sign of the blessed ties that bind; it is one of the ways of making those ties binding and blessed to begin with (p.163).”

Leave a comment or two.  Even better, maybe you have alternative captions for the cartoon.  I’ll buy & send a copy of the Frank Burch Brown book to the winner with the best quotes.