Thursday, December 31, 2015

And They Sang Jubilee (Day Seven)

The winter night was dark and still,
The village lay asleep;
In meadows underneath the hill
The shepherds watched their sheep;
The shepherds watched their sheep, good Lord,
But angels watched o’er thee,
While Mary held thee to her heart,
And they sang jubilee.

And now the yule log glows aflame,
And winds without run wild,
We softly speak the bless├Ęd name
They gave thee as a child,
They gave thee as a child, good Lord;
O winter winds, be still!
O Christmas star, shine down again
On meadow and on hill!

O Jesus, look from heav’n above,
And come to join us here:
To fill our home with Christmas love,
Our hearts with Christmas cheer,
Our hearts with Christmas cheer, good Lord;
And happy may we be,
All lads and maidens in our homes
And sailor boys at sea.

O Mary’s Son, for her sweet sake
All womankind is blest;
We praise thy name when first we wake,
And when we go to rest;
And when we go to rest, good Lord,
Our nightly thanks are given
For all good mothers — some on earth,
And some with thine in heav'n.

Louis F. Benson, 1917
C. H. H. Parry, 1904

The Reverend Louis FitzGerald Benson (1855-1930) was a giant in Presbyterian hymnody, the editor of their 1895 denominational hymnal, among others, and a widely-respected authority on hymns and their history.  He graduated from law school at the University of Pennsylvania, and then enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1877.  His law practice lasted only seven years, and he then went on to ordination and parish ministry.

In 1894 he resigned from the Church of the Redeemer in Germantown, PA to work on the new hymnal, and following its publication he continued to work in the same field, joining the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education and the Church’s General Assembly Commission on Worship and Music.  He compiled a number of other hymnbooks and published other works on hymnody, perhaps most notably The English Hymn (1915).  Previously on the blog we have looked at his The Best Church Hymns (1899).  After his death, his personal library became the basis for the Louis F. Benson Collection of Hymnals and Hymnology at Princeton.

Benson wrote hymns of his own, the best-known being For the bread which thou has broken (still under copyright), which continues to appear in hymnals today.  Today's Christmas text is not particularly remembered, though I think it still has something to say to us (the 'sailor boys at sea' notwithstanding).

Seven Years Ago: A year of precious blessings

Six Years Ago: John Robson Sweney

Five Years Ago: William Orcutt Cushing

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Follow the Star of Bethlehem (Day Six)

There’s a star in the east on Christmas morn.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
It will lead to the place where the Christ was born.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.

Follow, follow;
rise up, shepherd, and follow.
Follow the star of Bethlehem.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.

If you take good heed to the angel’s words,
rise up, shepherd, and follow.
You’ll forget your flocks, you’ll forget your herds.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.

African-American spiritual, 19th cent.
Tune: STAR IN THE EAST (Irregular with refrain)

Several sources claim that this spiritual was first published in Slave Songs of the United States (1867), the first book of music collected from the oral tradition of the American slaves. I don't find it in that edition available online though there may have been later editions of the book that added it. It is found in Religious Folk Songs of the Negro as Sung on the Plantations (1909), an edition of an earlier book compiled by Thomas P. Fenner in 1874. Fenner was the head of the music department at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia.

P.S. - If you followed a Facebook link to get here you can click on the blog logo above to see the rest of the current Twelve Days of Christmas celebration.

Seven Years Ago: William Croft

Six Years Ago: Music I love -- but ne'er a strain

Three Years Ago: Like the sound of many waters

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

But Mary's Arms Contain Thee Now (Day Five)

All praise to thee, O Jesus Christ,
Clothed in a garb of flesh and blood;
Choosing a manger for thy throne,
While worlds on worlds are thine alone.

Once did the skies before thee bow;
But Mary’s arms contain thee now,
While angels, who in thee rejoice,
Now listen for thine infant voice.

A little child, thou art our guest,
That weary ones in thee may rest;
Humble and lowly is thy birth;
That we may rise to heav'n from earth.

Thou comest in the lonely night
To make us children of the light;
To make us, in the realms divine,
Like thine own angels round thee shine.

All this for us thy love hath done;
By this to thee our love is won;
For this we tune our cheerful lays,
And sing our thanks in ceaseless praise.

Martin Luther, 1535; tr. anonymous, 1858; alt.
Tune: MAINZER (L.M.)
Joseph Mainzer, 1845

This translation of Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ by Martin Luther first appeared anonymously in the Sabbath Hymn Book (1858), published in Massachusetts by Lowell Mason's firm.  Though found in 88 (mostly American) hymnals at the site, only two of those appear to be Lutheran collections.  Lutheran editors seem to have preferred another translation, All praise to Jesus' hallowed name, by Richard Massie, from his collection titled Martin Luther's Spiritual Songs (1854).

I like this one better, even as a former Lutheran.

P.S. The art above is from a larger painting, William-Adolphe Bouguereau's Song of the Angels (1881)

Six Years Ago: Go, tell it on the mountain

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Feast of the Holy Innocents

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps,
Would live our lives for you.

Praise for the infant martyrs,
Whom you, with tenderest love,
Called early from the conflict
To share your home above.
O Rachel! cease your weeping,
They rest from pains and cares;
God, grant us hearts as guileless,
And crowns as bright as theirs.

We pray for saints we know not,
For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone. 

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.
William Lloyd, 1840

Today is set aside on the calendar to mark the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those children around Bethlehem who were murdered on King Herod's orders in Matthew 2:13-18.  That passage quotes earlier verses from Jeremiah 31:15-17 (another reading for the day), which include the reference to Rachel weeping for her children (explained here).

An anthem for the day which I particularly like is In Rama was there a voice heard, which is from Arthur Sullivan's oratorio The Light of the World.  It's no longer heard often, at least partly because church choirs frequently vanish for a time after Christmas.

We've now completed a full church year and calendar year using this hymn by Horatio Bolton Nelson with its numerous middle stanzas for the different saints' days of the year.

You can revisit the ones that I've used (each with a different tune) at these links:

The Conversion of Saint Paul

Saint Matthew

Saint Luke

Saint Simon and Saint Jude

The Feast of All Saints

The Dayspring From On High (Day Four)

Calm on the listening ear of night
Come heaven's melodious strains,
Where wild Judea stretches far
Her silver-mantled plains.

Celestial choirs from courts above
Shed sacred glories there;
And angels, with their sparkling lyres,
Make music on the air.

The answering hills of Palestine
Send back the glad reply;
And greet, from all their holy heights,
The Dayspring from on high.

O'er the blue depths of Galilee
There comes a holier calm,
And Sharon waves, in solemn praise,
Her silent groves of palm.

"Glory to God!" the sounding skies
Loud with their anthems ring,
"Peace to the earth, good-will to all,
From heaven the news we bring!"

Light on thy hills, Jerusalem!
The Savior now is born!
And bright on Bethlehem's joyous plains
Breaks the first Christmas morn.

Edmund Hamilton Sears, 1834; alt.
Tune: ST. AGNES (C.M.)
John Bacchus Dykes, 1866

Though minister and poet Edmund Hamilton Sears was a Unitarian, he wrote at least two hymns for Christmas. His other one is far more well known, but this text was in more than 300 hymnals up until the middle of the twentieth century.

Sears was also the uncle of hymnwriter Eliza Scudder.

Six Years Ago: Peaceful the wondrous night

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Saint John the Evangelist

So it's the third day of Christmas, already observed here a few hours ago, but it is also the feast-day of Saint John the Evangelist.  John, who may or may not have been the disciple known as "beloved," also wrote one of the four Gospels, some of the Epistles, and the Book of Revelation, which came to him in a vision while he was on the island of Patmos (pictured above in a 1640 painting by Nicolas Poussin). 

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps,
Would live our lives for you.

Praise for the loved disciple,
Exiled on Patmos' shore;
Praise for the faithful record
He to your Godhead bore;
Praise we the mystic vision
Through John to us revealed,
May we, in patience waiting, 
In your own heart be sealed.

We pray for saints we know not,
For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone. 

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.
Welsh melody, from Hymnau a Thonau, 1865

Seven Years Ago: Saint John the Evangelist

(Also) Seven Years Ago: John Goss

Six Years Ago: Saint John the Evangelist

Three Years Ago: Saint John the Evangelist

An Anthem Exultingly Swells (Day Three)

Above all the roar of the cities,
And over the hills and the dells,
With a message of peace to the nations,
Ring the beautiful Bethlehem bells,
Bringing joy to the souls that are sighing
In places where poverty dwells—
There is life, there is life for the dying
In the beautiful Bethlehem bells.

Beautiful Bethlehem bells;
Beautiful bells, beautiful bells,
Beautiful Bethlehem bells.

Far off in a land that is lovely,
For the tender, sweet story it tells,
In the light of a glorious morning,
Rang the beautiful Bethlehem bells;
And still in the hearts of creation
An anthem exultingly swells
At that memory sweet of the ringing
Of the beautiful Bethlehem bells.

They rang o’er the hills and the valleys,
They summoned the glad world that day,
From the regions of night to the manger,
Where the beautiful Child Jesus lay;
And forever and ever and ever
A wonderful melody dwells
In the tender, sweet ringing and singing
Of the beautiful Bethlehem bells.

Frank L. Stanton, 1918
Tune: BEAUTIFUL BELLS (Irregular with refrain)
Charles E. Pollock, 1918

This Christmas gospel song by Stanton and Pollock was first published in Songs of Grace and Glory (1918) and is perhaps a bit too much of its time to be successfully sung today. Firmly in the sentimentalist vein of Christmas songs, it suggests the idealized Bethlehem rather than the grim reality of the city today.  However, we can certainly imagine our grandparents and great-grandparents singing songs like this in their churches a century ago.

Six Years Ago: Shepherds rejoice! lift up your eyes

Saturday, December 26, 2015

By Prophets Long Foretold (Day Two)

For the second day of Christmas we return to the modified hymns of Simon Patten (1852-1922) in his 1916 collection Advent Songs, previously discussed here.  This is his "replacement" for the well-known While shepherds watched their flocks by night, which seems to have been the first hymn approved for use in the Church of England.

While shepherds, watching flocks by night
Would more of heaven know,
A figure seemed from stars to form
And come to them below.

In pleasing voice the angel spoke,
From God above I come
A loving message to repeat
And tell you of God's Son.

To you this day in Bethlehem
Is born a Child divine,
Who from your woe shall make you free,
Your hearts, like gold, refine.

Behold, a humble manger bed
Which to the world displays
A Child of heav'nly parentage
Whose beauty shall amaze.

When this was said, an echo came
From some enraptured throng,
Whose voices rose in gladsome praise
Of this fair Child in song.

Rejoice, rejoice, the day has come,
By prophets long foretold,
When love and peace on earth may dwell
Their glory to unfold.

Simon N. Patten, 1916; alt.
George Frederick Handel, 1728;
arr. Lowell Mason

Six Years Ago: Good King Wenceslas

One Year Ago: Saint Stephen

Friday, December 25, 2015

One Whose Birth the Angels Sing (Day One)

Angels we have heard on high,
Singing sweetly through the night,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their brave delight.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why these songs of happy cheer?
What great brightness did you see?
What glad tidings did you hear?

Come to Bethlehem and see
One whose birth the angels sing,
Come, adore on bended knee
Jesus Christ, and praises bring.

See within a manger laid,
Whom the angels praise above;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While we raise our hearts in love.

French carol; tr. James Chadwick, 1862; alt.
Tune: GLORIA ( with refrain)
French carol; arr. Edward Shippen Barnes, 1937

As mentioned before, I think it's time again for another CWS Twelve Days of Christmas. Surprisingly (even to me), there are still several well-known songs, hymns and carols which have not yet been seen here, so as before (see December 2009-January 2010 in the archives) we will have a mixture of the known and unknown.  Come back tomorrow (and beyond).

Happy Christmas to all!

Seven Years Ago: Once in royal David's city

One Year Ago: What child is this

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Proclaiming God's Surprising Word

The Fourth Sunday in Advent often commemorates Mary, the mother of Jesus, for her part in the Incarnation story. Readings may come from Luke 1:26-38 (the Annunciation), or Luke 1:39-56 (the Visitation), which includes the Magnificat, Mary's song of praise which for centuries was taught as an example of her meek compliance and dedication to service. In our time it is more frequently considered to be a revolutionary statement about the coming reign of God, the reversal of the way things have always been and the end of injustice and inequality. With God all things are possible. An unwed, teenage mother denied a place to stay for the night becomes the means by which Jesus comes into our world, and we still remember her "yes" to the angel Gabriel today.

Shall we not love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well?
And to his glory, year by year,
Thy joy and honor tell?

For thee he chose from whom to take
True flesh his flesh to be;
In it to suffer for our sake,
By it to make us free.

Thy babe, he lay upon thy breast,
To thee he cried for food;
Thy gentle nursing soothed to rest
Th'incarnate Child of God.

Joy to be Mother of the Lord,
And thine the longed-for bliss,
Proclaiming God's surprising Word
Which shall all wrong dismiss.

As Jesus loves thee, Mother dear,
We too will love thee well;
And to his glory, year by year,
Thy joy and honor tell.

Henry Williams Baker, 1868; alt.
C. H. H. Parry, 1902

P.S. - This is Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Annunciation (1475)

Three Years Ago: Praise we the Lord this day

Friday, December 18, 2015

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley, one of the most prolific hymnwriters in history, was born on this date in 1707, the eighteenth of nineteen children born to his parents.  Born prematurely, he nearly died in the first weeks of his life.  The Wesley children were tutored for six hours daily by their mother Susanna, who also spoke Latin, Greek, and French, so they were well prepared to continue their educational studies in more formal settings. While at Oxford University, Charles founded the Holy Club in 1727, a small group who conducted Bible study and celebrated the Eucharist weekly, and also visited prisoners and taught children to read. 

Of course, Charles and his older brother John went on to become the founders of the Methodist Church. Though they had never intended to leave the Church of England, those who followed them eventually set themselves up as a separate denomination. The Wesley brothers were committed to teaching a faith which was based in their classical educations and not on a fundamentalist view of the Bible.

Charles is best known for his hymns, of which more than 6500 have been identified.  Like John Calvin and Martin Luther before them, the Wesleys believed congregational singing to be a good way to spread their message. Duke Divinity School, founded by the Methodists in 1926, maintains a directory of Wesley's published and unpublished hymn texts on their website.

Today's lesser-known hymn was first published in Charles's 1747 collection Hymns and Sacred Poems

See how great a flame aspires,
Kindled by a spark of grace!
Jesus' love the nations fires,
Sets earth's kingdoms all ablaze:
To bring fire on earth he came;
Kindled in our hearts it is:
O that all might catch the flame,
All partake the glorious bliss!

Saints of God, your Savior praise!
Christ the door hath opened wide!
He hath giv’n the word of grace,
Jesus’ word is glorified;
Jesus, mighty to redeem,
He alone the work hath wrought;
Worthy is this work of God,
God, who made the world from naught.

Saw ye not the cloud arise,
Little as a human hand?
Now it spreads along the skies,
Hangs o’er all the thirsty land!
Lo! the promise of a shower
Drops already from above;
And our God will shortly pour
On the world eternal love.

Charles Wesley, 1746; alt.
Edward J. Hopkins, 1867

I like how the hymn begins with fire and ends with water (the cloud "little as a human hand" comes from 1 Kings 19:44, when Elijah's prayers to God bring rain after many years of drought). 

Charles and John Wesley are also commemorated together on March 3 in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.

Seven Years Ago: Phoebe Worrall Palmer

Five Years Ago: Charles Wesley

Three Years Ago: Charles Wesley

Thursday, December 17, 2015

John Greenleaf Whittier

December 17  is the birthday of Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, born in Haverhill, Massachusetts.  His childhood was spent working on the family farm and he was largely self-educated.  Later influenced by the poetry of Robert Burns, he took to writing his own verses, and was first published by editor William Lloyd Garrison in the Newburyport Free Press in 1825.  Garrison sought out Whittier and encouraged him to pursue a career in journalism, and the two men would later share a strong commitment to abolition and other social causes.  Whittier edited several newspapers and journals and eventually became one of the foremost American poets of his day.

Despite Whittier's claim of rarely writing verse for congregational singing, hymnal editors from his time to the present have frequently adapted sections of his longer poems into hymns.  Today's text comes from his poem The Eternal Goodness which was in twenty-two stanzas.  Various combinations of stanzas from this poem have appeared in hymnals for the last century and a half, and this is one more arrangement.

Within the maddening maze of things,
When tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!

And if my heart and flesh are weak
To bear an untried pain,
The bruised reed God will not break,
But strengthen and sustain.

No offering of my own I have,
Nor works my faith to prove;
I can but give the gifts God gave,
And plead that love for love.

And so beside the silent sea
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from God can come to me
On ocean or on shore.

I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death
God's mercy underlies.

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1867; alt.
John S. Camp, c.1905

I think there's something about this text which speaks to the stress and activity that can overcome us at this time of year.

Composer John Spencer Camp (1858-1946) was a church musician in Hartford, Connecticut and probably wrote more tunes than this one, though it's the only one available at the Cyber Hymnal site.

Seven Years Ago: John Greenleaf Whittier

Five Years Ago: John Greenleaf Whittier 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

William Walsham How

William Walsham How, born on this date in 1823, was a priest in the Church of England and eventually Bishop of Wakefield (though he resisted being named a bishop for some years).  He had originally planned to enter the legal profession, but changed his mind while in college at Oxford and went on to divinity school at Durham University.

He was ordained in 1846, and served as rector of Whittington for twenty-eight years (1851-1879).  His first book of poetry was published anonymously, and was updated and enlarged in 1886. His collected hymns, 54 in number, were also published separately.  

He was chair of the committee that produced Church Hymns (1871) for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and that volume became the second-most widely-used hymnal in the UK (after our old friend Hymns Ancient & Modern). He was also one of the editors for The Children's Hymn Book (1881).

Since Bishop How's birthday falls on the third Sunday in Advent this year I tried to find a text with some connection to the season, so here we have the second stanza about the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), which is usually read during Advent though it also has a separate feast day on March 25 - nine months before Christmas.

Jesus! Name of wondrous love!
Name all other names above!
Unto which must every knee
Bow in deep humility.

Jesus! Name decreed of old,
To the maiden mother told,
Kneeling in her lowly cell,
By the angel Gabriel.

Jesus! Name of mercy mild,
Given to the holy Child
When the cup of human woe
First he tasted here below.

Jesus! Name of priceless worth
To your people here on earth!
Jesus! Name of wondrous love!
Human Name of God above!

William Walsham How, 1854; alt.
Tune: ST. BEES (
John Bacchus Dykes, 1862

In 1898 How's son Frederick Douglas How published a memoir of the bishop.  Perhaps not surprisingly, he writes thusly of his father's hymns: "Among the good hymn-writers Bishop Walsham How takes his place without challenge."  Though How wrote fewer hymns than several of his Victorian contemporaries, a good proportion of them are still being sung, so this assessment is not without merit.

Seven Years Ago: William Walsham How

Five Years Ago: Edwin O. Excell

One Year Ago: William Walsham How