Singing from Advent to Epiphany
Psalm 98, Joy to the World (12/28/2009)
It's not Epiphany yet; it's still Christmas. Advent is the four Sundays and three to four weeks before Christmas, Christmas is December 25 to January 5, and Epiphany is January 6. Nevertheless, we are moving on in our study to some songs for Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the scholars from the East to the infant Jesus and, by extension, the revelation of the Messiah to the whole world. Some of the hymns we will look at this week are traditionally sung as Christmas carols; however, they are ones that emphasize Christ for the world.
Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Matthew 2:1-10, Do You Hear What I Hear? (12/29/2009)
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
I confess to mixed feelings about today's carol. You hardly ever get a new Christmas carol, but not only was "Do you hear what I hear?" brand new in 1962, but it was a smash hit then and has since been recorded by hundreds of artists. I love this carol – it takes me back to my Grandma's kitchen every time I hear it. And it's a great song for Epiphany: the night wind tells the little lamb, who tells the shepherd boy, who tells the mighty king, who tells the people everywhere. Wonderful, evangelistic stuff about Christ for the world.
However, I'm forced to tell you that the shepherds did not say anything to the mighty King Herod; the scholars talked to Herod. And Herod, far from telling people everywhere the good news, sent soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all baby boys under the age of two. He was a mighty bad king.
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Matthew 2:11-12, We Three Kings (12/30/2009)
"Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king
Do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold."
Said the king to the people everywhere
"Listen to what I say
Pray for peace, people, everywhere
Listen to what I say
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light."
– Noel Regney, October 1962
Everybody's favorite Epiphany hymn is "We Three Kings." Never mind that "magi" means "scholars," not kings. (By the way, thanks to non-reader Madison L. for the great translation "scholars," which I adopted instantly
.) Never mind that the number of scholars is unspecified. It's still our favorite.
The scholars did indeed bring three gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts are traditionally interpreted to acknowledge Jesus as king, God, and sacrifice, respectively, as in the hymn. John Wesley says, "Probably these were the best things their country afforded; and the presents ordinarily made to great persons. This was a most seasonable, providential assistance for a long and expensive journey into Egypt."
Notice that the family was now living in a house, that Herod slaughtered two-year-olds and younger, and that the family was impoverished at the time of Jesus' dedication in the Temple. All three factors show that the scholars did not arrive until quite some time after Jesus' birth.
We three kings of Orient are
Isaiah 60:1-6, We've a Story to Tell to the Nations (12/31/2009)
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star
(Refrain) O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light
Born a King on Bethlehem's plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again...
Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh,,,
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom...
Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice...
Fellow-reader Joan S. notes, "I'd never thought about [Jesus' family] being in a house when the scholars arrived....it's interesting that you read this story all of your life and overlook some of the smallest details." I had never noticed this detail myself until I read a commentary that pointed it out. We are so bombarded with pictures of three kings in the stable that we can't see the house in the scripture! Today is the last day of our third year together, and I hope that you, too, have made discoveries here and there about details of the scriptures.
The idea that God's people should spread God's message throughout the world did not originate with the Church. When God first made a covenant with Abraham, he said, "I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing. Through you, all the nations of the world will be blessed" (Genesis 12). By the time of the prophets, the idea was fully developed that the nations (i.e., all non-Jews) were living in darkness, and that the children of Israel would ultimately bring them into the light. And who was to be the agency of this light? The Messiah, the LORD'S Christ.
We've a story to tell to the nations,
Matthew 28:16-20, Go, Tell It on the Mountain (1/1/2010)
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy,
a story of peace and light,
a story of peace and light.
(Refrain) For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright;
and Christ's great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.
Did you ever have a mountain-top experience? The scriptures tend to associate mountaintops with great faith experiences. God tested Abraham by asking him to go to a mountain to sacrifice Isaac. Moses got the law on a mountain. Satan took Jesus to a mountaintop to tempt him. Small wonder that the last time Jesus met with his disciples, it was on a mountain.
So the eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain where Jesus directed them, and seeing him, they worshipped him, although some doubted. Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and upon the earth has been given to me. Go, now; make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And, you see, I will be with you always, even until the end of age.”Happy New Year!
While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens,
There shone a holy light:
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.
More Songs for Advent through Epiphany
Christmas Carols - Part 1
Christmas Carols - Part 2
Christmas Carols - Part 3
Copyright 2009, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.
The Star in the East, by Gustave Dore, showing the magi's trip to Bethlehem is from the Gartin family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina L. Hunter.
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