No sooner had the thanksgiving dressing been put away to become a late-afternoon football snack than the Christmas decor began to make its grand entrance from almost a years worth of being stored away!
Isn’t this story so true in many of our homes? Seems like some folks
have been ready to unleash Burl Ives, Ray Conniff, Mitch Miller and Jose Feliciano since mid-August…but alas, we can hold them off no longer. For the season of anticipating Christmas is finally here…the Advent of Christ is upon us according to the Christian Calendar.
Maybe it is the weather of the last few days (both at home and in Chicago), but I’ve been thinking about the lyrics of one of my favorite Christmas hymns which guides us through the advent story so well…and does so with such a potent lyrical connection for us today that I really can’t wait to start singing…
While it’s absolutely true that we in America have NO real concept of what it means to be persecuted as Christians, or as churches, what it means to experience religious persecution, I think it’s startling at just how often we hurt each other and ourselves and our brothers and sisters within the church. We allow Satan to have a field day attacking us, taking us “off message” by getting all worked up over things that just don’t’ matter in the grand scheme of things…
Just in the last few days, I’ve heard of fractures and divisions that have led to members of the body of Christ wishing failure and hurt on another congregation just because they “didn’t get their way.”
And we wonder why people are tired of “the church” or why people consider Christians to be hypocritical.
I have my share of failures, sin, and lots of baggage. But that’s NO excuse for any of us to EVER attack the Church…Christ’s bride…Christ’s body, Christ’s witness on earth to the world…a part of Christ’s incarnation to help make life on earth more like it is in heaven.
It would also do us well to do a better job defining what’s sacred, what’s a sacred cow, what’s biblical, what’s tradition, and what’s traditionalism. As Jaroslav Pellikan once said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Those are Two VERY different things.
Maybe a little “Fiddler” would help us remember the difference?
Church Music in America is seemingly “torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool.” That is to say, we are experiencing a period of transition stylistically, theologically, and musically as well as lyrically. There appears to be a groundswell of desire to return to the time honored-hymn form…a new renaissance, as Robert Webber put it, of the “ancient-future” in which many musicians, composers, and lyricists are returning to texts and tunes that have stood the test of time as the basis for new compositions. We need look no further than Keith and Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, David Crowder, even the popular groups coming out of the Passion movement, Bethel, and yes, even Hillsong has tipped their caps to the sound of songs from years gone by.
Such is the case with the hymn-subject of this entry, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” and its well-known tune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN. As recently as November of 2017, Sovereign Grace Music did a new arrangement of “All Creatures.”CCLI claims no less than 185 different entries in their catalog of songs either quote, mention, borrow from, or add choruses or other pieces to the original hymn. “All Creatures” is found in over 200 hymnals, and the LASST UNS ERFREUEN tune is found in excess of 300 hymnals as well.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
St. Francis of Assisi (ca. 1182–1226) lived during the time of the Crusades, when the upper class and elite ruled the land and when armored knights rode chivalrously on their horses across the European countryside. But not Francis. A monk in search of reform, Francis lived a humble, simple lifestyle in service to God and to his fellow man. He is said to have loved nature, travel, and would preach to anyone who’d listen, even if it was a group of birds in a cave. His love of nature and his love for the Creator of nature is what birthed his “Song of Brother Sun and All Creatures,” or “Cantico del frate sole.” It was one of several popular laude spirituale, or popular spiritual songs in Italian for use outside of the liturgical context.
Francis is believed to have written this poem near the end of his earthly life, during a period of tremendous pain and suffering. And among its more salient details are the tone with which Francis writes, a tone that expresses a desire for man and nature to be one, a love of the earth and all God’s creatures in it, a voice way ahead of its time and well before any hint of a movement toward a cultural and ecological revolution like America saw in the 1960’s.
Dr. J.R. Watson, British hymnologist observes: “In the original the saint gives each element, such as fire and water, a human gender, so that they become ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ This remains in the appellation of ‘Dear mother earth’ in verse 4, and is suggested by the personification of death as ‘kind and gentle’ in verse 6. These elements in the hymn make it seem tender as well as grand. It is based in part upon Psalm 148.”
In most English Versions, freely translated by William Henry Draper, we find either four or five verses. William Henry Draper (1855–1933) was born at Kenilworth, GB and educated at Oxford for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. He was ordained in 1880 to serve the Anglican church at St. Mary’s in Shrewsbury, as well as in Alfreton, and Leeds.
Draper is credited as the paraphraser or free translator of this text attributed to St. Francis.
He is also given credit for twelve to fifteen other hymns, the most popular being “In our day of Thanksgiving, one psalm let us offer.”Julian offers that Draper had some sixty hymns to his credit in 1907 and gave Draper high praise for his verse. Draper composed his translation/paraphrase for the occasion of a children’s celebration of Whitsuntide at Leeds between 1906 and 1919. It was published in the Public School Hymnbook of 1919, and Draper couldn’t remember the exact date of his composition. It was set to Ralph Vaughan Williams tune, LASST UNS ERFRUEN, a staple tune of British hymnody, in this publication, though it is believed to have been sung and known prior to the 1919 book.
The tune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN, is most often set by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who originally included it when he compiled and edited The English Hymnal in 1906. The title is derived from the Eastertide text, Lasst uns erfreuen herzlich sehr, from the 1623 Jesuit hymnal collection titled Ausserlesene Catlwlische Geistliche Kirchengesänge. Other texts often associated with this tune include “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” “From All That Dwell Below The Skies,” “Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones,” “Now All The Vault Of Heaven Resounds,” and “Give To Our God Immortal Praise.” There are numerous arrangements and opportunities for variation in texture, voicing, call and response, or many other creative options. Erik Routley once suggested this hymn to be a part of a broader family of tunes based on the major triad, including MIT FREUDEN ZART.
All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing:
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
thou silver moon with softer gleam,
O praise him, O praise him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
ye clouds that sail in heaven along,
O praise him, Alleluia!
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice,
ye lights of evening, find a voice:
Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
make music for thy Lord to hear,
Thou fire so masterful and bright
that givest us both warmth and light,
All ye who are of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
sing his praises, Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care,
Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
O praise him, Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son
and praise the Spirit, Three in One,
In each stanza, the author personifies an aspect of nature as brother and sister humankind. In the opening stanza, he calls all creatures in praise to God . . . echoes of Psalm 8, Psalm 19 reminiscent in the back of our minds. Each stanza ends with a Trinitarian “alleluia,” beginning with a two-part opening chorus motif calling us to “praise him,” and concluding with the tripartite “alleluia.” Some translations have translated the refrain as “Praise God” in an effort to make the language more gender-neutral. Others have removed the language considered to be archaic, “thees” and “thous” with we, you, and other modern pronouns.
Stanza two speaks of the winds, clouds, moon, evening lights, and skies, all in praise of the Creator.
Stanza three speaks of the flowing water, which brings cleansing and healing, that clear water . . . double-entendre perhaps, speaking of Christ as living water and the water that flows from the throne as referenced in the Old Testament narrative. It also speaks of fire in contrast to water.
Stanza four breaks from this pattern of Creator-Creation praise to focus on the act of forgiveness on the part of humans, created in the image of the Creator and created to offer forgiveness to one another. God as forgiver, Christ as sacrifice and bearer of our sin, shame, and care. Echoes of Christ bearing our burden as he shares in Matthew 11 immediately come to mind. Once again, the stanza ends in a closing Trinitarian refrain.
Stanza five could be considered a corollary to stanza one, once again calling all of creation to bless their creator-God. This time, the Creator is praised as the holy Three-in-One, Father, Spirit, and Son. The author calls all creation to praise the Creator, to praise the Father, the Son, and Spirit, Three-in-one. And as each stanza that preceded it, stanza five concludes with the Trinitarian refrain.
I am still amazed at little, seemingly hidden verses that strike me from time to time. In recent years, it seems to always happen at Christmas. Last night was no different.
Our congregation travels to a local rehabilitation and nursing facility every other Wednesday night to sing and fellowship with a special group of residents. Last night was our final visit for 2017. So, we sang through the entire Christmas, er, I mean, “Special Themes” section of our hymnal. True, there are several important Christmas hymns and carols noticeably absent from this particular compilation (O Come, O Come Emmanuel, God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen, Sing We Now of Christmas, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,Infant holy, Infant Lowly, just to name a few).
We came to It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. And we started in, just like we’d sung it time and time again. But we came to the third verse, and there it was, and it hit me right between the eyes.
I must make a note here before going into that lyric: We in Churches of Christ have missed the boat on a LOT of the rich, broader Christian hymnody of Advent and Christmas. Not only that, but we’ve bred a culture of singing that skips stanzas. So many of our hymns and songs were constructed to tell a story…especially, this is the case in so many of these Christmas carols and songs…they tell of the full narrative, of the prophets foretelling the coming of Messiah, of Mary’s encounter with the angels, of the manger, and of the upside-down-ness of Jesus’ coming and our waiting for his second advent, his return…living in that in-between. We’d do well to sing all of these stanzas, and to broaden our choices to include hymns and carols with a rich heritage, while also looking to include new hymns such as Matt Boswell’s Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery which tell the Christ story in with a wonderful new tune and rich text. Listen to the original here, then you can buy the a cappella version here. One of my professors and friends, Dr. Scott Aniol of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth offered good perspective on this in an interesting Baptist Press article as well.
So often, these Christmas hymns include a story of how our world is doing anything but living in the reality of God’s world-changing love, as shown through Jesus. I’ve written before about hymns likeO Come, O Come Emmanueland O Holy Nightand how they sing into just how we are to live out that love in the here and now. So often, these ignored stanzas speak of the sadness of war and the lack of love for brother and sister humankind…
3 Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong; and warring humankind hears not (Some hymnals use the original, “and man, at war with man hears not”) the love song which they bring. O hush the noise and cease your strife, and hear the angels sing.
Considering this hymn was written over 140 years ago, the commentary on the warring between humankind and the plea with us to cease our strife is all the more powerful, and all the more relevant for us today.
And it sets up the closing stanza, now more important than ever to sing in light of stanza 3.
4 For lo, the days are hastening on, By prophets seen of old, When with the ever-circling years, Shall come the time foretold. When the new heaven and earth shall own The Prince of Peace their King, And the whole world send back the song Which now the angels sing.
In our living and loving, may we send back heavenward, and to our brothers and sisters, the “song the angels sang.”
And may we sing these hymns and the rich stories they offer in their entirety…and may we be changed because of it.
One of the hymnological tenets that I often examine concerns what contributions people with roots in Churches of Christ/Restoration Movement have made to broader “mainline” hymnody…read that as “songs they’ve written that have had a wide influence outside Churches of Christ.”
While I often lament that our tradition has been so insulated and because of this, a number of hymns & gospel songs written by our people have not made the beyond the walls of our churches, there are several individuals who’s songs are still Sung today in churches and denominational settings of all shapes, flavors, and sizes.
“Softly and Tenderly” is a prime example of this. Earlier this week, Carrie Underwood performed this song on a national award show…and the online chatter it created is remarkable. Everywhere I seemed to look, whether it was facebook, twitter, etc., there were people commenting about how moved they were by this performance. A HYMN? POPULAR PERFORMANCE? IN 2017? SURELY NOT!
Will Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909) is one of only a handful of hymn writers from Churches of Christ whose hymns have been broadly accepted outside of Churches of Christ. His “SOFTLY AND TENDERLY” is probably his most well known hymn. Hymnary.Org claims it has been found in some 720 hymnals in total.
Alongside his catalogue of hymns and texts that we know about, He also published a number of his own smaller hymnals and church music educational publications as well under his own publishing label in Ohio. He was acquainted with the Fillmore Brothers, also Restoration Movement folks in origin, and Thompson is believed to have found a home in each flavor of our northern Restoration Movement Churches.
This hymn can also claim one of the earliest “gold records” of all time.
Alongside a long list of hymns that only appear once or twice, here are a few more titles you may recognize that Thompson wrote that are sung across mainline hymnody, across the years, and across the world.
There’s A Great Day Coming
Jesus is All the World to Me
Lead me gently home, Father
A Sinner Was Wandering at Eventide
Jesus Bids You Come
For a brief bio of Thompson, click here.
Will Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909).
Finally and unrelated, I wanted to point you to two wonderful sites that I use often in my weekly planning.
First, is a wonderful site called WordtoWorship. WordtoWorship.com is an incredible site that has created a wide compendium of “modern” “or contemporary” titles of the last 25 years (and that is kept remarkably up to date) that allows you to search, create lists, and also, if you choose, become a member to add, upload, and submit titles to help keep the growing list of titles current. Go and search, look around, and help support this great site.
Lastly, it’s easy to get lost in the vast number of texts, tunes, hymns, and songs available to us with this wonderful thing called technology and the internet. I’m always looking and adding to a growing list of bookmarks…A few days ago, I was looking for a particular text by Brian Wren, and I was pointed to an excellent search interface at Hope’s website. You can find it, a link to Hope Publishing’s hymn catalogue, here. This site is one I’d encourage you to look to from time to time, especially in light of more recently written hymns. Texts and Tunes from the New British Invasion of the 1960’s, Brian Wren, Timothy Dudley-Smith, Fred Pratt-Green, Erik Routley, and many others can be found here. These are texts that, thanks to hymnals from Wiegand in 1997 (Praise for the Lord) and the more recent Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (Sumphonia), we are finally beginning to see eek themselves into our Church of Christ congregational hymnody, slowly but surely.