Monday, November 10, 2008

Starting to think about Christmas hymns

Peter Paul Rubens
Adoration of the Magi (1624)



"To you this night is born a child of Mary chosen virgin mild. This little child of lowly birth shall be the joy of all the earth!" (LSB 358 stanza 2)

Thus sings Martin Luther in his delightful Christmas hymn, "From Heaven Above to Earth I come."  It is thought that Luther wrote this hymn for his children to sing in eager anticipation for Christmas.  As advent is among us it is time to consider the treasures of the church's sacred music and hymnody. For from heaven above to earth He came to bring great news to every home! This great news is the coming of the promised one, the Son of God, to win redemption for all people. During advent our Lord has cultivated in us a great anticipation and assuredness of all His promises through His Holy Word, divine liturgy, hymns, and psalms. Our Lord makes children of us all with burning and thankful hearts. Though in the midst of this expectation, repentance, and yearning He comes to us continually without ceasing through His beautiful Word, setting at ease our will.

The church ought also be aware of the anxiety and melancholy that often visits our neighbors and friends during this time.  A common experience of Christmas, is that the joys, smells, and emotions do not measure up to past memories.  There is often a feeling of something lost.  The late Father Richard Neuhaus in First Things writes, "There is no point in trying to recapitulate Christmas as you knew it when you were, say, seven years old. That way lies sentimentalities unbounded." This may be an issue with many Christians, who have joyous memories of Christmas as a child. Trying to recapture the warm feelings of the season is seldom met with success. That is why depression and sorrow are most common during this time.  Family often are forced to confront estrangement and the elderly often deal with meeting Christmas for the first time with the loss of a spouse or friends.  "The alternative," Neuhaus says, "is the way of contemplation, of demanding of oneself the disciplined quiet to explore, and be explored by, the astonishment of God become one of us that we may become one with God." The benefits of Christmas - the birth of Christ - is not bound by our feelings and experience or lack of experience. Christ, by coming into the flesh reconciles us to the heavenly Father, proclaiming peace on earth and mercy to all. These benefits are not dependent upon our temporary sorrow and stress of the Christmas season.  The Christ event shines in the darkness.

Welcome to to earth, O noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
You came to share my misery
That You might share Your joy with me.
(From Heaven Above to Earth I come stanza 8) 

The Christ comes.  Christ is born in Bethlehem because God desired to dwell among His people, and to dwell among you. This is why the angels call him "Emmanuel" meaning "God with us." By the mystery of the Incarnation the fullness of God dwelt in the virgin’s womb. He came meek and lowly being nursed by His mother Mary. He came to teach, feed, heal, and forgive sins through defeating Satan’s power on the cross. This is surely a time of great delight for the church! The Savior born of the seed of David, promised by the prophets, to save us from our enemies.

With the new Lutheran Service Book, we hold a great treasure with both historic and wonderful new Christmas hymns. I would suggest that families consider purchasing a new LSB hymnal for home use to celebrate the birth of our Lord. Luther considered music the highest of arts, along with theology. Christmas hymns are not only a great joy to sing, but also teach us, and strengthen our faith.

Take time this season to discuss your favorite Christmas hymns with family and friends. For a single melody or verse has the power to make the old and young into one heart and one mind in Christ Jesus. Singing canticles hymns and spiritual songs is a great way to be a witness to the Gospel. Surprising your neighbors with Christmas carols can light faces, ease spirits, and teach about our Lord.

1 comment:

  1. Could you please invite me to read the CTS-FW disputations blog? I'm particularly interested in this upcoming one on Wednesday, though I won't be able to attend it.

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