Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 18, 2011
2 Samuel 7:1-11,16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 BCP
Canticle, Luke 1:46-55
Be early for this special Prelude
Jesus Bambino by Pietro Yon
Gretchen Ediger, Flute
Pat O’Neil, Organ
Looking Forward and looking back
This season of Advent not only has us looking forward to the return of Christ, but we also look back in order to look forward. The birth of Jesus was itself looked forward to, and as we remind ourselves that He is due to return, we remember some of those prophecies that were to predict His birth in Bethlehem. Not only do they come from the Old Testament, but some of them became enshrined as antiphons (brief texts for liturgical use before and after canticles) even after the New Testament period. The Magnificat is said or sung every day at Evening Prayer, but in the run-up to Christmas, these special verses (the “Advent antiphons”), recalling the prophecies associated with Mary’s acceptance of her calling to be the mother of Jesus, were added, giving extra poignancy to the oft-sung text. There is therefore a slight irony in the fact that while “O come, O come, Emmanuel” is a great Advent hymn, it is not ideally suited to the beginning of Advent after all. It is most appropriate as an end-of-Advent hymn, to be sung when one of the verses might coincide with the appropriate antiphon for the particular day.
As a call to worship at Grace Anglican Church, the cantors have sung one verse of this hymn each Sunday, adding verses as Advent progresses. This Sunday we will sing 4 verses. The closing hymn of the day to be sung by the congregation, will be all 8 verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Here is the story of this Advent Hymn.
“Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is probably the oldest Christmas carol still sung today This popular hymn dates back to the ninth century and represents an important and ancient series of services celebrated by the church. It also presents the different biblical roles that the church believed Jesus fulfilled. The universal nature of faith presented in this song can now be best seen by the fact that it has crossed over from a hymn sung in Latin and used in only formal Catholic masses to a carol translated into, scores of languages and embraced by every Christian denomination in the world.
The writer of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is unknown. He was no doubt a monk or priest who penned the words before 800 A.D. He was also a scholar with a rich knowledge of both the Old and New Testaments. Once completed, the hymn was evidently picked up by many European churches and monasteries and became an intensely important part of the church. Yet for fifty-one weeks of each year it was ignored, saved for a single week of Advent vespers leading up to the celebration of Christ's birth.
In its original form, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” was known as a song of the "Great Antiphons" or “Great O's." The Latin text, framed in the original seven different verses, represented the different biblical views of the Messiah. One verse per day was sung or chanted during the last seven days before Christmas.
Much more than the very simple, almost monotone melody employed at the time, the words painted a rich illustration of the many biblical prophesies fulfilled by Christ's birth. So the story of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is really a condensed study of the Bible's view of the Messiah-who he was, what he represented and why he had to come to Earth. Even to this day, if one is a proficient Bible student, the song's lyrics reveal the unfolding story of the Messiah.
For the people of the Dark Ages-few of whom read or had access to the Bible-the song was one of the few examples of the full story of how the New and Old Testament views of the Messiah came together in the birth and life of Jesus. Because it brought the story of Christ the Savior to life during hundreds of years of ignorance and darkness, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” ranks as one of the most important songs in the history of the Christian faith.
The song owes its worldwide acceptance to a man named John Mason Neale. Born on January 24, 1818, this Anglican priest was educated at
Trinity College in . Brilliant, a man who could write and speak more than twenty languages, he
should have been destined for greatness, yet many feared his intelligence and
insight. At the time, church leaders thought lie was too evangelical, too progressive, and too
much a freethinker to be allowed to influence the masses. So rather than get a pastorate in
Cambridge London, Neale was sent by the church to the
Madiera Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. Pushed out of the spotlight and given the position
of warden in an all but forgotten locale, it was expected that he and his ideas
would never again find root in . Yet Neale refused to give up
on God or his own calling. On a salary of just twenty-seven pounds a year he established the Sisterhood of St.
Margaret. From this order he began an orphanage, a school for girls and a house
of refuge for prostitutes. And these noble ministries were just the
When he wasn't ministering to those who could truly be called “the least of these,” the often frail and sickly Neale reviewed every facet of Scripture and Scripture-based writing he could find. It was during these studies that lie came across the Latin chant “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in a book called Psalteroium Cantionum Catholicarum. Seizing on the importance of the song's inspired text, Neale translated the words into English. Interestingly, in his initial work, the lyrics began, “Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel”
The tune that went with Neale's translation had been used for some years in Latin text versions of the song. “Veni Emmanuel” was a fifteenth century processional that originated in a community of French Franciscan nuns living in
translation of the lyrics coupled with “Veni Emmanuel” was first published in
the 185Os in Lisbon,
Portugal . Within twenty-five years,
Neale's work, later cut to five verses and called “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” grew in popularity
throughout Europe and England . America
Although sung countless times each Christmas, much of the song's rich meaning seems to have been set aside or lost. While both men-the ancient monk and the exiled priest-would probably be amazed that any still remember their work, the fact that few realize the full impact of the words would no doubt disappoint them greatly. After all, to sing a song and not feel the power and majesty of its meaning trivializes both the music and the lyrics.
The first verse of the song is taken from Isaiah 7: 14 and Matthew 1:23. It introduces Emmanuel-“God with us”-and
symbol for the Christian world, held captive on a dark and sinful
Isaiah 11 serves as the theme for the verse that begins “O come, thou rod of Jesse, free" (in some translations this is called the "Branch of Jesse"). In it the rod of Jesse represents Christ, who is the only one who can defeat Satan and bring eternal life to all those who follow him.
“O come, O Dayspring, come and cheer” presents the image of the morning star, a concept that can be traced back to Malachi 4:2. In this verse, the song states that the coming Savior will bring justice, honesty, and truth. He will enlighten and cast out darkness as "The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in His wings.”
The lyrics then turn to "O come, thou key of David," a reference to Isaiah
22:22. The words in this verse explain that the newborn King holds the key to the heavenly kingdom and there is no way to get into the kingdom but through Him.
The verse that begins “O come, O come, Adonai” (in some texts this reads “O come, thou wisdom from on high”) centers on the source of true wisdom. This comes only from God through his Son. Through the Savior, this wisdom can reach around the world and bring peace and understanding to all men. Thus, Christ's teachings and examples fulfilled all Old Testament prophesies.
Even today, when sung in a public hall by a small group of carolers or during a television special, the original chants of long forgotten monks can almost be heard. Although translated into scores of languages and sung in wild variety of styles and arrangements, the simplistic yet spiritual nature of the song remains intact. It is reverent, a tribute to not only the birth of God's child but also to the fulfillment of God's promise to deliver his children from the world. In this simple hut brilliant song, the echoed voices of clerics from the past gently urge today’s world to accept and worship the King who fulfills God's greatest promise to his children.
Excerpted from Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins,
This Sunday’s gospel is the stirring story of the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel appears and utters the world premiere of “Ave, Maria.” Gabriel calls Mary the favored one and proclaims God’s presence with her. Mary’s response to the angel, which has been handed on to us as the Magnificat (“My soul magnifies the Lord”), is an inspiring profession of faith and acceptance. Mary’s “yes” to God has helped generations to be strong, committed, and resolute in the face of poverty, war, persecution and doubt. In bearing the child of God, she reminds us that we are the children of God, spiritually descended from the same heavenly Father. The singers in the loft will sing the Magnificat canticle as the option to the Psalm.
The Anthem to be sung from the loft during the Offertory will be a choral arrangement of a Basque traditional hymn, A Virgin Knelt in Prayer. This hymn is #265 in Hymnal ‘82. There are quotations from the Magnificat to be found in this carol, in the third verse. In a brief, two-minute piece of music, we have the heart of the Annunciation story. We will sing of Gabriel arriving and telling Mary the good news, and there is a lovely foretaste of the later visitation to the shepherds as the refrain Gloria is used at the end of each verse. The annunciation is the first step toward that day when the angels will sing “glory,” and all humanity join in, as the promised Messiah, the Emmanuel, the Savior, is born. While the carol is rooted in the scriptural text, there is an opening out in the last verse where the focus moves away from describing the event of the Annunciation to the angel telling Mary that one day “Christian folk throughout the world will ever say, ‘Most highly favored lady!’” This brings the story into the present, just as we have been taken to the past in remembering that very strange and disconcerting message that Gabriel brought her, all those years ago. I have posted here a link to the rock star, Sting, singing this lovely Basque carol. How much more modern day can we get? http://youtu.be/GF2BzUDeTkY
The words come from a traditional Basque carol, and were translated by the Reverend Sabine Baring Gould, author of the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” The charming tune of GABRIEL’S MESSAGE also originates in the Basque region.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
This text must be one of the most common in Western music, because of its pastoral, maternal and thoroughly human focus. Whatever we may think of the theological controversies that surround its meaning and direction, there is no doubt that the Ave Maria has inspired and comforted countless generations of Christians.
It comes as no surprise that the Ave Maria has inspired some beautiful music. Many composers have used it and the version by Franz Schubert is probably one of the best known and loved today. Gretchen Ediger will solo this lovely arrangement on her flute accompanied by Pat O’Neil on the organ this week during the Eucharist.
Dare we suppose that Mary herself would have been pleased that a setting of the Ave Maria is giving pleasure and inspiration to those in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy right here in Boise, Idaho? I think we might!
Tune My Heart To Sing