Advent's waiting is over and the first day of Christmas is here. I hope it is a joyful and grateful season for everyone who visits here.
You may recall that last year we had some discussion here about the dozen or so Christmas carols and hymns that “everyone” agrees should be sung during the season. Hymnblogger and commenter Leland even listed them at one of his blogs. I also happened to post one that I thought was just a bit obscure and everyone told me that, of course, they knew it after all.
So, a challenge of sorts. There are twelve days of Christmas, as everyone knows. I'm going to try for one hymn of carol each day, but not necessarily one of the dozen de rigueur (or what would be left for next year?). Over the years, hundreds of text writers and composers have written carols and hymns for Christmas only to see them ignored for the popular standards. Look through any older hymnal and you'll probably see Christmas selections you've never heard before. Look through any newer hymnal and you'll find things you'll probably never sing. Maybe I'll pick some of those discarded pieces up and dust them off over the next several days.
There will be some favorites interspersed, so you needn't go off and ignore me for the next while if you're not a fan of the obscure. I do hope that anything I refurbish will have something worthwhile about it (even if you don't agree). And, after writing about the Bishop of Croydon the other day, I have to watch out for the scourge of sentimentalism.
English poet Christopher Smart, from whose poetry a few hymns have been derived, is certainly not sentimental in any way. This Christmas text explores the contradictions of the Incarnation; the Promised One of the ancient prophets coming to earth not as a mighty conqueror but as a human baby. And yet, the power is present. God who made the earth has come among us on this day.
Where is this stupendous stranger?
Prophets, shepherds, kings, advise;
Lead me to my Savior's manger,
Show me where the Christ-child lies.
O Most Mighty! O Most Holy!
Far beyond the seraph's thought:
Art thou then so weak and lowly
As unheeded prophets taught?
O the magnitude of meekness!
Worth from worth immortal sprung;
O the strength of infant weakness,
If eternal is so young!
God all-bounteous, all-creative,
Whom no ills from good dissuade,
Is incarnate, and a native
Of the very world God made.
Christopher Smart, 1765; alt.
Tune: SUSSEX (18.104.22.168.)
English folk melody
arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906
Smart's original second line was “Swains of Solyma, advise,” but that name for Jerusalem was probably outdated even in his time. The tune SUSSEX we have seen before, one of the folk tunes arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams for his English Hymnal.
As you can imagine, I rarely get to sing this one. But I keep hoping for its rediscovery.
One Year Ago: With the Oxen Standing By