The story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), with the surprising news that the angel Gabriel gives to Mary, is read in many churches today. There are other parts of Mary's story that are also appropriate for Advent, such as her visit to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-46) which includes the mighty Magnificat, Mary's song of revolution.
Today's hymn, written in the middle of the nineteenth century, goes to a place you might not expect from a Victorian writer: the course of Mary's pregnancy from the Annunciation ('the angel's salutation') to her travels to her cousin ('o'er the mountains of Judea') and finally toward Bethlehem as nine months pass. The baby is called a 'burden' which may bring to mind a chorus from Handel's Messiah about easy yokes and light burdens, but it is also a hard truth not always mentioned in Mary's story: the Incarnation came about through difficult reality for the two earthly parents-to-be, and the good news of it must have seemed far away at times, for all that the author here tries to make it more palatable for us. The meek and mild Mary sometimes portrayed in hymns and stories actually had to be a pretty tough and resourceful young woman to make it all the way to Bethlehem.
Frederick William Faber was a priest in the Church of England who converted to Roman Catholicism only nine years after his ordination. His hymnwriting 'crossed the Tiber' as well, as demonstrated in this hymn, titled "Our Lady's Expectation."
Like the dawning of the morning
On the mountains' golden heights,
Like the breaking of the moonbeams
On the gloom of cloudy nights;
Like the tidings told by angels,
Far and wide across the earth,
Is the Mother's expectation
Of Messiah's speedy birth.
You were happy, blessed Mother,
With the very bliss of heav'n,
Since the angel's salutation
In your list'ning ear was giv'n.
Since the 'Ave' of that midnight,
When you were anointed Queen,
Like a river overflowing
Has the grace within you been.
O'er the mountains of Judea,
Like the chariot of the Lord,
You were lifted in your spirit
By the uncreated Word;
Gifts and graces flowed upon you
In a sweet celestial strife
And the growing of this baby
Was the lightening of your life.
Oh the feeling of this burden,
It was touch and taste and sight;
It was newer still and newer,
All those nine months, day and night.
Every moment did that burden
Press upon you with new grace;
Happy Mother! You are longing
To behold the Savior’s face!
Frederick William Faber, 1854; alt.
Tune: BLAENWERN (188.8.131.52.D.)
William Penfro Rowlands, 1905
Father Faber's full text runs to eight stanzas, ending with that baby's birth, but since we are still in Advent for another week it seems appropriate to stop here, with Mary's (and our) hope and expectation.
More Hymns for the Fourth Sunday of Advent:
Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Great Gabriel sped on wings of light
Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Away! with loyal hearts and true
Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: Praise we the Lord this day
Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Today the angel comes, the same
One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Shall we not love thee, Mother dear
Eight (Calendar) Years Ago: Phoebe Worrall Palmer
Six (Calendar) Years Ago: Charles Wesley
Four (Calendar) Years Ago: Charles Wesley
One (Calendar) Year Ago: Charles Wesley