Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Now Greet the Swiftly Changing Year

As 2008 comes to its close, it's good to recall with thanksgiving all the blessings that Christ has poured out upon His Church through the hymn texts of Jaroslav J. Vajda (1919-2008).  I had the occasion to meet Pastor Vajda only once, at the very beginning of the Hymnal Project.  The Hymnody Committee spent much of the first morning of their time together just listening to Jaroslav Vajda and Carl Schalk as they freely spoke about their perspectives on the textual and musical aspects of a hymn.  I also corresponded with Pastor Vajda on one occasion, when (in 1993) I wrote "The Tree of Life."  He was very kind and encouraging with his remarks in response to my text.

Vajda's translation of the 17th century Slovakian hymn first appeared in Worship Supplement (1969).  The first line has undergone a few of changes from the original: "Greet, Man, the Swiftly Changing Year."  His second revision is what is printed here.  The final version is: "Greet Now the Swiftly Changing Year."  (What is printed here [LSB 896] was chosen because it fits best with Alfred Fedak's tune, SIXTH NIGHT, a wonderful melody that expresses the joy of this text.)

1.  Now greet the swiftly changing year
     With joy and penitence sincere.
          Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace
          Another year of grace.

2.  Remember now the Son of God
     And how He shed His infant blood.
          Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace
          Another year of grace.

3.  This Jesus came to end sin's war;
     This Name of names for us He bore.
          Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace
          Another year of grace.

4.  His love abundant far exceeds
     The volume of a whole year's needs.
          Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace
          Another year of grace.

5.  With Him as Lord to lead our way
     In want and in prosperity,
          What need we fear in earth or space
          In this new year of grace!

6.  "All glory be to God on high,
       And peace on earth!" the angels cry.
            Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace
            Another year of grace.

7.  God, Father, Son, and Spirit, hear!
     To all our pleas incline Your ear;
          Upon our lives rich blessing trace
          In this new year of grace.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How, Before All Time Began

"For he chose is in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will--to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  (Ephesians 1:4-6)

1.  How, before all time began,
         Before the world's creation,
     Could the Lord conceive His plan
         Of mercy and salvation?
     Yet, from that high and timeless place,
     God chose to save our death-bound race:
         Emmanuel--as prophets tell the story
             In Scripture as we know,
         Would veil in flesh His glory
             And dwell with us below!

2.  To the darkness of our night
         And to our need descending,
      Come the Word as Light of Light
         Beyond our comprehending--
     Radiant within the virgin's womb;
     Dawning as day upon our gloom.
          Hail, Jacob's Star! For all You are now shining
              Your beam of grace on earth,
          Your royal might confining
               Within such humble birth.

3.  As the presence of a king
         Brings honor to a city,
     Bethlehem, be glad and sing
          Your Sov'reign's tender pity;
     Join all the angels who rejoice;
     Let ev'ry creature raise its voice--
          Sing "Glory be to God!" for He is solely
              The God who comes to save
          And to our world unholy,
               The Prince of Peace He gave.

4.  Tarshish lords from distant shore,
          Come, pay your tribute to Him;
     Kings of Sheba, kneel before
          The One with worship due Him.
     Rise up, O nations!  See!  Your Lord!
     Long may He live and be adored!
          Oh, may His fame and holy name, transcending
              Each name upon this sphere,
          Be sung with praise unending
               For love so pure and near!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Stable Lamp Is Lighted

Christ's birth culminates in His death and resurrection.  Even the very stones of creation praise God for such redemptive love.  The text was written by Richard Wilbur (b. 1921) in 1958 for the annual Christmas concert at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.  (I had the joy and privilege of serving as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Middletown, Connecticut from 1985-2000 and was on the campus of Wesleyan University on numerous occasions.)  The text was first published in Advice to a Prophet and Other Poems in 1961 under the title "A Christmas Hymn." In 1987, Richard Wilbur was named second Poet Laureate of the United States, following Robert Penn Warren.  "A Stable Lamp Is Lighted" appeared in Hymnal Supplement 98 paired with the tune ANDUJAR, a tune composed by David Hurd (b. 1950).  The tune was named after Lily Andujar Rogers, a Fellow at the American Guild of Organists and choirmaster of the boys' choir in which David Hurd sang at St. Gabriel's Church, Hollis, Long Island.

1.   A stable lamp is lighted
        Whose glow shall wake the sky;
           The stars shall bend their voices,
         And ev'ry stone shall cry.
         And ev'ry stone shall cry,
             And straw like gold shall shine;
                 A barn shall harbor heaven,
             A stall become a shrine.

2.  This child through David's city
         Shall ride in triumph by;
             The palm shall strew its branches,
         And ev'ry stone shall cry.
         And ev'ry stone shall cry.
             Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
                 And lie within the roadway
             To pave His kingdom come.

3.  Yet He shall be forsaken,
         And yielded up to die;
             The sky shall groan and darken,
        And ev'ry stone shall cry.
        And ev'ry stone shall cry,
            For stony hearts of men:
                God's blood upon the spearhead,
            God's love refused again.

4.  But now, as at the ending,
         The low is lifted high;
             The stars shall bend their voices,
         And ev'ry stone shall cry.
         And ev'ry stone shall cry,
             In praises of the Child
                 By whose descent among us
             The worlds are reconciled.

Friday, December 26, 2008

O Sing of Christ

"Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.  Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples."  (Psalm 96:1-3)

1.  O sing of Christ, whose birth made known
        The kindness of the Lord,
     Eternal Word made flesh and bone
        So we could be restored.
     Upon our frail humanity
        God's finger chose to trace
     The fullness of His deity,
        The icon of His grace.

2.  What Adam lost, none could reclaim
        And Paradise was barred
     Until the second Adam came
        To mend what sin had marred.
     For when the time was full and right
        God sent His only Son;
     He came to us as life and light
        And our redemption won.

3.  He came to that which was His own,
        But He was not received;
     Yet still through Him God's glory shone,
        And some His name believed.
     To these He gave the right to be
        The heirs of heav'n above,
     Born not of human ancestry,
        But born of God in love. 

4.  Lord Jesus Christ, You deigned to dwell
        Among us here on earth
     As God with us, Emmanuel,
        To bring this holy birth.
     Though rich, You willingly became
        One with our poverty,
     That we might share Your wealth and name
        For all eternity! 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior

"I will rejoice greatly in the LORD; my soul shall exalt in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."  (Isaiah 61:10)

1.  Thee we adore, O hidden Savior, Thee,
     Who in Thy Sacrament art pleased to be;
          Both flesh and spirit in Thy presence fail,
          Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail.

2.  In this memorial of Thy death, O Lord,
     Thou dost Thy body and Thy blood afford:
          O may our souls forever feed on Thee,
          And Thou, O Christ, forever precious be.

3.  Thou, like the pelican to feed her brood,
     Didst pierce Thyself to give us living food;
          Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow'r to win
          Forgiveness for our world and all its sin.

4.  Fountain of goodness, Jesus, Lord and God:
     Cleanse us, unclean, with Thy most cleansing blood;
          Increase our faith and love, that we may know
          The hope and peace which from Thy presence flow.

5.  O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see,
     May what we thirst for soon our portion be:
          To gaze on Thee unveiled and see Thee face to face,
          The vision of Thy glory, and Thy grace.   Amen.

(Stained glass window is from the chapel at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bay City, Michigan.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Prepare the Royal Highway

"The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It is written in Isaiah the prophet: 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way'--'a voice of one calling in the desert, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him." '  And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."  (Mark 1:1-4)  

1.  Prepare the royal highway;
     The King of kings is near!
     Let ev'ry hill and valley
     A level road appear!
     Then greet the King of Glory
     Foretold in sacred story:
          Hosanna to the Lord, 
          For He fulfills God's Word!

2.  God's people see Him coming:
     Your own eternal king!
     Palm branches strew before Him!
     Spread garments!  Shout and sing!
     God's promise will not fail you!
     No more shall doubt assail you!
          Hosanna to the Lord,
          For He fulfills God's Word!

3.  Then fling the gates wide open
     To greet your promised king!
     Your king, yet ev'ry nation
     Its tribute too should bring.
     All lands, bow down before Him!
     All nations, now adore Him!
          Hosanna to the Lord,
          For He fulfills God's Word!

4.  His is no earthly kingdom;
     It comes from heav'n above.
     His rule is peace and freedom
     And justice, truth, and love.
     So let your praise be sounding
     For kindness, so abounding:
         Hosanna to the Lord,
         For He fulfills God's Word!  

Monday, December 1, 2008

O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide

"Oh, that You would rend the heavens!  That You would come down!  That the mountains might shake at Your presence--as fire burns brushwood, as fire causes water to boil--to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence!"  (Is. 64:1-2)

1.  O Savior, rend the heavens wide;
     Come down, come down with mighty stride;
     Unlock the gates, the doors break down;
     Unbar the way to heaven's crown.

2.  O Father, light from heaven send;
     As morning dew, O Son, descend.
     Drop down, you clouds, the life of spring:
     To Jacob's line rain down the King.

3.  O earth, in flow'ring bud be seen;
     Clothe hill and dale in garb of green.
     Bring forth, O earth, a blossom rare,
     Our Savior, sprung from meadow fair.

4.  O Fount of hope, how long, how long?
     When will You come with comfort strong?
     O come, O come, Your throne forego;
     Console us in our vale of woe.

5.  O Morning Star, O radiant Sun,
     When will our hearts behold Your dawn?
     O Sun, arise; without Your light
     We grope in gloom and dark of night.

6.  Sin's dreadful doom before us lies;
     Grim death looms fierce before our eyes.
     O come, lead us with mighty hand
     From exile to our promised land.

7.  There shall we all our praises bring
     And sing to You, our Savior King;
     There shall we laud You and adore
     Forever and forevermore.