Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thrice Happy Shall His Welcome Be

Happy New Year to the church!

We celebrate the First Sunday in Advent today, the beginning of the Christian church's liturgical year.  Though Christmas preparations have been going on in the secular world for weeks now, we are called to a different kind of preparation.

The readings for this day usually point us to the second coming of Christ, rather than the birth of the baby Jesus in the manger.  This second coming, or second Advent, will bring the reign of God to earth, where justice and equity will prevail.

Today's hymn is from a new discovery of mine, a collection of hymns called Advent Songs (1916) by Dr. Simon Nelson Patten.  Subtitled A Revision of Old Hymns to Meet Modern Needs, you can probably understand why it interests me.   Dr. Patten believed that the standard hymns of the church were too focused on the past, with language from European sources, talking about kings and lords and subjects and war, and did not represent the ideals of modern (early 20th century) Christianity.  He goes on in the introduction:

My main endeavor has been to avoid the expressions of war, depravity, and woe upon which the emotional value of earlier hymns depends. (...) At a recent baccalaureate service, the large audience, after listening to a convincing peace sermon, sang energetically, without a qualm of conscience, The Son of God goes forth to war. Our national and religious life must be reinterpreted...

Advent Songs includes several familiar hymns, such as A mighty fortress is our God and Love divine, all loves excelling, with Patten's reinterpretations, altering words and lines much as the hymns I have presented here for the last several years. He has also written  a number of original texts on subjects he considers important, such as womens' suffrage. His third category is somewhere in between: hymns with original texts but that are suggestive of other, familiar hymns.

Today's hymn is from that category.  Appropriate to the Advent season, it expresses our hopes for God's coming reign. I believe that it was also intended to remind its singers of an earlier hymn: O for a faith that will not shrink by William Hiley Bathurst (though in a different meter altogether).

O for a faith in boundless love
To open wide the realm above,
Where life is God and God is life,
Reviving souls cast down by strife.

O for a faith that growing youth
Shall keep the path of living truth,
Ours is the night, to them the day,
If now we show the onward way.

O for a faith that men are good
And, given strength, do what they should,
A growing faith that womankind
May equal man in skill and mind.

O for a faith that greed shall cease
And commerce follow ways of peace,
When neighbors fair with neighbors deal
And each regards the other's weal.

O for a faith in brotherhood
To batter down the walls that stood
Between the races of the past
Behind the feuds of clan and caste.

O for a faith that Christ may come
To end the work he has begun,
Thrice happy shall his welcome be
And great the joy of victory.

O God, give us a faith like this,
And help us feel the perfect bliss
That noble effort always brings
To those who hope for better things.

Simon N. Patten, 1916; alt.
Robert Schumann, 1839; adapt.

Patten was clearly influenced by the theology of the Social Gospel movement that was active in his times. His hymnwriting efforts may not have been as accomplished as those of Frank Mason North or Walter Russell Bowie, whose equivalent texts are still widely sung today, but this work was clearly important to him. 

In some ways he was probably ahead of his time. Today, his ideas about the language of hymns seem less radical, and revisions are more numerous.  In the 1970s, the Ecumenical Womens' Center took on the same concerns (with the addition of inclusive/expansive language), revising familiar hymns, writing new ones, and also writing texts that suggested or could be substituted for earlier ones, such as Ruth Duck's Lead on, O Cloud of Presence (for Lead on, O King eternal and Arise, your light is come (for Rise up, O men of God).  Television evangelist Robert Schuller and his wife Arvella Schuller rewrote many hymns that were sung at Schuller's Crystal Cathedral, incorporating some of the same concerns as Dr. Patten. And, of course, as explained here before, there were the efforts of the committee that produced worship resources for the Metropolitan Community Church, from which many of the hymns on this blog are taken.

So, another Advent.  As before, we will avoid the carols of the Christmas season until we actually get there (maybe it's time for another CWS Twelve Days of Christmas - go back and check out the entries here from December 25, 2009 - January 6, 2010).  There's an Advent introductory video on YouTube that says if you're too stressed about Christmas to appreciate it when it gets here, you probably didn't do Advent correctly.  We'll try to do it the right way here.

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Lo! Christ comes with clouds descending

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: 
Jesus came, adored by angels

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: 
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: 
The King shall come when morning dawns

Three (Liturgical) Years Ago: 
Once he came in blessing 

Two (Liturgical) Year Ago: In the Advent light, O Savior

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Hosanna! now through Advent

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