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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. You can also read the comments of my friend and professor, Dr. Scott Aniol about omitting Christmas stanzas in a recent Baptist Press article here.

midnight

I digress…
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 like O Come, O Come Emmanuel and O Holy Night and 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…

This verse is no different. Consider these lyrics.
Edmund H. Sears (1810-1876)

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.

Christmas, 2015, I wrote this post amidst a sea of unrest, politically and otherwise.  In light of tragic events in our country and around the world, I find myself reflecting on it again this holiday season.

There has been a lot of swirling conversation going on around me, both physically and virtually, about what has gone on in the world around us…Syria, San Bernardino, Orlando, Jerry Falwell, Trump, Sexual Scandal In Hollywood and on Capitol Hill, Abuse of all kinds, terrorism…and on and on.  This mounting and culmination of all these events and occurrences…like you, I’ve had enough and I needed a moment to just sit, be, listen and be quiet…in the quiet, I was overcome by the lyrics of one of the world’s most beloved Christmas Carols…and I had to write a bit about it. A Carol of Adolphe Adam and Placide Cappeau, originally called Cantique de Noel, or “Oh Holy Night.”

From the beginning, he was destined to follow his father in the family business (vinification and cooperage); but after an accident, he turned to the life of an academic. The accident occurred when he was eight years old, while “playing” with his friend Brignon. The young Brignon was handling a gun and shot Cappeau in the hand. This led to the young Cappeau having to undergo an amputation of his hand. Thanks to the financial support from  Brignon who supplied half of tuition,  Cappeau was able to attend a town school and was accepted into the Collège Royal d’Avignon. While there, in spite of his disability, he was awarded the first prize in drawing in 1825.

After studying in Nîmes, where he received a baccalauréat littéraire (A level in literature), he studied law in Paris and was awarded a license to practice law in 1831.

Following in his father’s footsteps, to an extent, he became a merchant of wines and spirits. However, his focus in life was literature.

He is quoted as saying he wrote the poem “Minuit Chrétien” (O Holy Night) in a stagecoach on his way to Paris, between Mâcon and Dijon. Despite Adolphe Adam calling his tune “la Marseillaise religieuse” (The religious Marseillaise),  Cappeau held often outspoken socialist and anti-clerical (secular) views. (hymnary.org)

The third verse of “Oh Holy Night” speaks of a world in which those who claim to follow Jesus are living out he calls all of his followers to in this subversive Gospel…

That Gospel is deeply rooted in Love of God and Love of Others…and so many claim the first part of that Call…the part about loving God.  But the back half…well, I’m afraid some have given Christ a bad name in how we’ve lived that out in recent days, weeks and months…that love of “others” is not one we can or should place provisions or privileges on…it’s an unconditional love for all of our brothers and sisters…

Cantique-002

 

“Truly He taught us
to love one another;
His law is Love
and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break,
for the slave is our brother,
And in his name
all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy
in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise
his Holy name!”

 

 

May we help bring this verse to a reality…may Life on earth come increasingly as it is in Heaven.
Come, Lord Jesus!

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 my last entry, each verse 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 backwards, 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.”

Come, Emmanuel!

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 year’s 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 it.

The words find their origins as early as the mid-late 12th century and were translated (or believed to be translated) by John Mason Neale around 1851.

The music finds its origin in the Libera Me, from the funeral mass of the Catholic Mass.  It was called Veni Emmanuel as early as the late 15th century when it was paired with the ancient text by a group of Fransiscan Nuns.  It’s scriptural connection, throughout each verse we know and those left out of modern hymnody is obvious.  We see Isaiah 7:14 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. The Rod of Jesse refers to Isaiah 11:1: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse;” Jesse was, of course, the father of David, second king of Israel. Day-Spring comes from Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, in Luke 1:78: “The dayspring from on high has visited us.” “Thou Key of David” is in Isaiah 22:22: “The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder,” which in turn refers to Isaiah 9:6: “The government shall be upon His shoulder.”  I’ll explore each other verse throughout this Advent season…

However, in light of the world’s recent events, terror and tragedy, and tragedy in the loss of family and friends in my own life in recent weeks, I find myself praying this prayer from one of the latter verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Indeed…come, Emmanuel.  Bring light & hope into our gloomy darkness!

S.D.G.
soli deo gloria

D.J. Bulls is the Worship & Communication Minister at Riverside Church in Coppell, TX. He is a graduate of Abilene Christian University, the University of Texas, and currently a Doctoral Student in Church Music & Hymnody. He is husband to Meghan and father to Mackenzie…He loves baseball, the Texas Rangers, and Alabama Crimson Tide Football. He teaches music, leads worship, and gets to be a conductor for a wonderful semi-professional choral ensemble in the DFW MidCities called the MidCities Chamber SingersHe composes and arranges music, is on the executive team for the Timeless Psalter project and leads worship all over the country through Bulls’ Pen Music and Fearless4You Music.

 

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