Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Christmas Hymns

Having groused about an evangelical impatience regarding Advent, and the potential glories of a 12-day Christmas, it is ironic that I have been dormant during these days! At the risk of feeling trapped into an Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle of posts, I should at least get a Christmas post off my chest.

At the church I serve we do not have a Christmas day service. I’ve always thought I would like to attend such a church … and would not like to be the minister of music for such a church. Selfishly, I like my last week of vacation each year, beginning at midnight Christmas Eve. But what a delight it would be to spend part of each Christmas Day morning in worship, with the beloved and anticipated songs and carols of the nativity and a simple prayer liturgy. Well, there are my nascent Anglican tendencies.

At my church we hung in there this year, opening the December 30 services with the Epiphany hymn “As with gladness, men of old” (which counts in our hymnal as a Christmas hymn). But the proximity to the New Year – and an excellent sermon from Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 – naturally (and I think appropriately) led to a New Year’s theme. Meh. It worked. This coming Sunday we will confuse some of our congregation with both New Year’s (“God of our life, through all the circling years”) and that Epiphany which sounds like Christmas: the gospel song “Jesus, the light of the world” and the Victorian hymn “Brightest and best of the stars of the morning.” For some, it will be Epiphany Sunday in our hearts. That’s OK.

What have we missed, among the Christmas hymns? Karen likes to point out how I compromise in our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, ending “O Come, All Ye Faithful” before the final stanza. Well, I just think it’s asking too much earlier in December to sing:

yea, Lord, we greet thee

born this happy morning

No, let’s keep something for Christmas Eve! Before the day of the Nativity, we have already sung:

glory to the newborn King! and

worship Christ, the newborn King. and

see Him whose birth the angels sing; and even

Christ is born today! Christ is born today!

Well, it’s a small disappointment, and not a very serious one, and certainly not damaging to the spiritual health of a vibrant congregation.

End of my seasonal whine. Now, here is a newer Christmas hymn, from whom else – Timothy Dudley-Smith. A tune by Edwin T. Childs was written for this hymn to be used at College Church; together they are published by Selah Publishing Company.

Exult, O Morning Stars Aflame!

Exult, o morning stars aflame!

With all the works of God proclaim

the Child of Bethlehem who came

for love and love alone.

Come earth and air and sky and sea,

bear witness to his deity

who lived, the Man of Galilee,

for love and love alone.

By faith behold the Crucified,

his arms of mercy open wide,

The Lamb of Calvary, who died

for love and love alone.

Let every eye his glories see,

who was, and is, and is to be;

who reigns as Christ in Majesty

for love and love alone.

O world, by strife and sorrow torn,

new hope is yours on Christmas morn,

the Prince of Peace a child is born,

for love and love alone.

Timothy Dudley-Smith

© 1992 by Hope Publishing Company,

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