A Canticle for Advent: The Soul Felt Its Worth

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Oh holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Noel, Noel
O night, O night divine
Noel, Noel
O night, O night divine
Noel, Noel
O night, O holy night

…it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
1Peter 3:4

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. ”
John 13:34

A Canticle for Advent: Who Brings You Beauty, Peace and Joy

a full moon in Ireland

‘Twas in the moon of winter-time
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wandering hunter heard the hymn:
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”

Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapp’d His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high…
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”

O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou,
The Holy Child of earth and heaven
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”
~ Canadian Carol
Words: Jean de Brebeuf, ca. 1643;1926 English version by Jesse Edgar Middleton

 

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2: 13-14

A Canticle for Advent: Their Wildest Dreams

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The Lord God said when time was full
He would shine His light in the darkness
He said a virgin would conceive
And give birth to the Promise
For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt
And hoped to see His love
The Promise showed their wildest dreams
had simply not been wild enough
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough

Chorus
The Promise was love and the Promise was life
The Promise meant light to the world
Living proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus

The Faithful One saw time was full
And the ancient pledge was honored
So God the Son, the Incarnate One
His final Word, His own Son
Was born in Bethlehem
But came into our hearts to live
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give

Chorus

The Promise was love and the Promise was life
The Promise meant light to the world
Living proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus
At last the proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus
~Michael Card 1986

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Luke 2: 28-32

 

These daily Advent reflections are each devoted to one Christmas carol (or canticle) to prepare us for God dwelling among us– then, now and forever more.

A Canticle for Advent: The Day-Star Waking

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1. Whence is the goodly fragrance flowing,
Stealing our senses all away,
never the like did come a-blowing,
Shepherds, in flow’ry fields of May,
Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing,
Stealing our senses all away.

2. What is that light so brilliant,
breaking Here in the night across our eyes.
Never so bright, the day-star waking,
Started to climb the morning skies!
What is that light so brilliant, breaking,
Here in the night across our eyes.

3. Bethlehem! there in manger lying,
Find your Redeemer haste away,
Run ye with eager footsteps vieing!
Worship the Saviour born today.
Bethlehem! there in manger lying,
Find your Redeemer haste away.
~ Traditional French Carol

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
Matthew 2: 10

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Luke 2: 8-9

Stealing our senses.  Overwhelmed by the songs of glory.  Like the scent of a flowery field of fragrance in the middle of May, or the brightest light breaking apart the darkest night.Running, not walking, to meet the Redeemer.  This is what it was like for the shepherds and the magi.  This is what it is still like for us.  Our Day-Star awakens and we, our senses stolen by glory,  are overjoyed.

A Canticle for Advent: Kind and Good

tonynose

1. Jesus our brother, kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

2. “I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town.”
“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

3. “I,” said the cow all white and red
“I gave Him my manger for His bed;
I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”
“I,” said the cow all white and red.

4. “I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.”
“I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

5. “I,” said the dove from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry;
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I.”
“I,” said the dove from the rafters high.

6. Thus every beast by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.
~12th century carol

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:7

I know a fair amount about animals and their feed troughs, having daily encounters with them in our barn.   This is “stable rude” –no fanfare and no grandiosity, just basic sustenance– every day needs fulfilled in the most simple and plain way. Our wooden troughs are so old, they have been filled with fodder thousands of times over the decades. The wood has been worn smooth and shiny from years of being sanded by cows’ rough tongues, and over the last two decades, our horses’ smoother tongues, as they lick up every last morsel, extracting every bit of flavor and nourishment from what has been offered there. No matter how tired, how hungry, there is comfort offered at those troughs. The horses know it, anticipate it, depend on it, thrive because of it.

The shepherds in the hills that night were starving too. They had so little, yet became the first invited to the feast at the trough. They must have been overwhelmed, having never known such plenty before. Overcome with the immensity of what was laid before them, they certainly could not contain themselves, and told everyone they could about what they had seen.

His mother listened to the excitement of the visiting shepherds and that she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”. Whenever I’m getting caught up in the frenetic overblown commercialism of modern Christmas, I go out to the barn and look at our rough hewn feed troughs and think about what courage it took to entrust an infant to such a bed. She knew in her heart, indeed she had been told, that her son was to feed the hungry souls of human kind and He became fodder Himself.

Now I am at the trough, starving, sometimes stamping in impatience, often anxious and weary, at times hopeless and helpless. He was placed there for good reason: a kind and good treasure to be shared plain and simple, nurture without end for all.

 

These daily Advent reflections are each devoted to one Christmas carol (or canticle) to prepare us for God dwelling among us– then, now and forever more.

A Canticle for Advent: Come and See

Gerrit van Honthorst "L'adoration des bergers"
Gerrit van Honthorst “L’adoration des bergers”

Sing we now of Christmas
Sing we all Noel
Of the Lord and Savior
We the tidings tell
Sing we Noel
For Christ our Lord is born
Sing we Noel
For Christ our Lord is born
Angels from on high
May shepherds come and see
He’s born in Bethleham
A blessed family
Glory to God
For Christ our King is born
Glory to God
For Christ our King is born
Sing we now of Christmas

Sing we all Noel
Sing we now of Christmas
Sing we all Noel
Sing we all Noel
~Noël Nou­ve­let, 15th Cen­tu­ry French mel­o­dy

 

I grew up knowing this bittersweet melody as an Easter hymn, “Now the Green Blade Riseth” and later was surprised to find it was actually a Christmas carol.
I find the Easter words even more meaningful, and the imagery fits for Advent as well, as we wait expectantly for the call back to life again from the fields of our dead hearts.

Love is come again.  Indeed.

 

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love Whom we had slain,
Thinking that He’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Up He sprang at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Up from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
~John Crum 1928

Called to Advent–Keeping

photo by Josh Scholten

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14

Staying married, therefore, is not mainly about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant. “Till death do us part” or “As long as we both shall live” is a sacred covenant promise – the same kind Jesus made with His bride when He died for her.
John Piper

My husband and I attended a wedding in an outdoor park years ago where the officiating pastor asked the couple to vow to each other to stay together “as long as we both shall will.” I remember thinking that was the most useless vow I’d ever heard because it was no vow at all. It was a poetic and tempting string of words, like a strand of colored lights buried in the snow, pretty but pointless. There was no promise to keep covenant with one another despite everything that can happen in life. There was no commitment to see things through, to be steadfast in the face of trouble, to not wander from the path set before us simply because we have the freedom and desire to do so.

Keeping covenant is particularly significant tonight in light of the news that one of our body, one of our church, has been given a devastating diagnosis of leukemia. He will be transferred to a leukemia unit at the regional university hospital to begin life-saving treatment. His wife, loving him as she vowed to do when they married, keeps faith with him through this toughest battle of all, serving his needs with her strength and endurance. The body of the church will keep them both uplifted in prayer, and provide for their needs as best we are able.

We are called by advent to keeping covenant–with each other, with the body of Christ, with God Himself. The complication is that we have been created with the freedom to choose not to do so or only do so as long we shall “will.” How genuine is our commitment?

The baby in the manger was God’s most tangible keeping of the covenant with His children. He came to us, stayed with us, died for us, and remains committed to us as we wait His return. We are kept whole, even through our greatest earthly battles and in our dying, by His love.


There is nothing which so certifies the genuineness of a man’s faith as his patience and his patient endurance, his keeping on steadily in spite of everything.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones