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
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.

We Are A Moment…We Are A Vapor…

As I prepared to lead worship this morning, I found myself thinking about my dear friend, Brent who is now with our heavenly father.  For almost 9 years, I had close interaction with B every Sunday morning (and Sunday night as we co-led Small Groups)…for many of those Sundays, he was my slide man…needless to say, we were very, very close.  The hymn that has him on my mind is one he embodied, and more than that, he embodied the truth it is fashioned out of.

This morning, we planned to sing Lynn DeShazo’s & Gary Sadler’s wonderful modern hymn Be Unto Your Name.  If indeed worship on earth is preparation for our eternal worship around the throne, than these words should help us anticipate what is to come and what we’re supposed to be living for…and I believe worship very much helps us accomplish bringing about “life on earth as it is in heaven…”

The writers craft their lyric based on these words from James 4
13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

12191019_10208177895031693_2796738148264634593_nIf we trust in God, then we should have no problem following these meaningful verses with the very powerful chorus that follows.  May these lyrics continually transform us…and B?

It makes me long for heaven a lot more with each passing day.

Verse 1: We are a moment, You are forever
Lord of the Ages, God before time
We are a vapor, You are eternal
Love everlasting, reigning on high

Verse 2: We are the broken, You are the healer
Jesus, Redeemer, mighty to save
You are the love song we’ll sing forever
Bowing before You, blessing Your name

Chorus: Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain
Highest praises, honor and glory
Be unto Your name, be unto Your name

Back to the Heart of Worship…

Worship music is ever-in-transition.  Always has been, always will be.
We often talk of those “old” hymns that have been incredibly formative in our religious upbringing or discipleship journeys.  For every church-going believer (and even some not-yet-believers), there is probably some hymn which has been meaningful at some point in their lives.  We punctuate our lives with them…weddings, funerals, with lots of “routine” Sundays in between.

But, if you’re like me, there was a point when you were “Exposed” (makes it sound like some contagious illness or airborne disease, doesn’t it?) to something new…something fresh, something different than the “hymns” you sang in church or heard in church in days gone by.

downloadAs I listened to the new Passion record a few weeks ago, I was taken aback when, after I had put it on shuffle for a while, a simple chorus of Matt Redman’s older tune “Heart of Worship” came on in the midst of a sea of new (some of it really nice) worship music.
“I’m coming back to the heart of worship…
Where it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus.
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it.
                                                When it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus.”

Even though I’ve known it for years and went through a phase at ACU where I was leading it quite often in our Wednesday night service at So. Hills, it’s simplicity struck me as so powerful…and even though it was not the song I most poignantly remember as a “game changer” in my view of  what worship music looked, sounded and “felt” like, it sent me back to a litany of times and places where some “new songs” really took me to a deeper level.  I’ll probably be flooded with a list of memories and songs after I hit publish…and I may come back to that at a later date…

The simplicity of the sound, the form, the lyric…all just reminded me of what’s so important about what we communicate in the songs we sing in worship.  I think what was at the core of an entire movement of new worship music, and to some degree, still remains at the core, was a desire of worship writers to go back to what was of “first importance,” to borrow Paul’s words.  As a dear friend & brother of mine often says we must “keep the main thing, the main thing,” in the realm of what worship is most about.  And for many of these writers?  That’s exactly what they were and are doing.  Going back to what is primary, foundational… and that is the fact that worship isn’t about us.  And I don’t know about you, but I constantly need to be reminded, especially in worship, that it’s not about me.  May we all go back to the heart of worship.

My Favorite Heaven Song is…

In preparation for my next post, I want to do a brief “survey” here.

Leave a comment telling me what your favorite “heaven” song is and why.  Tomorrow’s post is called “Heaven is a wonderful ‘place'” where I’ll follow up on a great message I heard on Sunday from our pastor at Campus Church here in Atlanta.  Leave a comment!