Hymn of the Month

DECEMBER
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Since all four Advent Sundays fall in December this year, it's only appropriate that we focus on an Advent hymn for this month. "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" has long been a favorite of mine, especially when set to the tune STUTTGART.

The text is by the great hymn-writer Charles Wesley. Wesley's words, originally arranged in two stanzas of eight lines each, first appeared in 1744 in a series of tracts called "Festival Hymns." Since the latter part of the eighteenth century, this song has enjoyed ever-increasing popularity and is now included in many of the major hymnals in English-speaking countries around the world.

One of the most important themes of Advent is Christ's second coming. This text, like many of the Old Testament passages read during Advent, does not distinguish sharply between the first and second comings of Jesus. Stanza 3 refers to the first coming of Jesus as a child, but the rest of the text can be considered a prayer for Jesus' return to reign in fullness over us and every nation.

The text will be familiar to most adults and is a good one to teach our children from memory. Stanzas 1 and 3 would be especially appropriate for family memorization.

The tune STUTTGART was first published in 1715 in a slightly different form. Its composer, or perhaps arranger, was Christian Friedrich Witt, who also composed a Passacaglia in D Minor for organ which was first attributed erroneously to J.S. Bach.

Gerhard Krapf's Sing and Rejoice includes a fine prelude and two settings for organists who lead in the singing of this hymn. Krapf indicates that the prelude should be played happily.

In contrast I have provided a hymn introduction that I suggest be played more pensively— longingly. The prelude has flowing eighth notes which should not be played too fast. They help me to evoke the mood of longing and to play the hymn at a slightly slower tempo than I otherwise might. Organs not equipped with an appropriate solo reed in the pedal might well have 8' and 4' Principals, or a flute 8" and Choral Bass 4' that would work for the melody.

Another good solution would be to invite someone in the congregation who plays a bass instrument (cello, bassoon, trombone, etc.) to join the organ for this prelude. The bass instrument would play the melody line, accompanied by the organist playing only on manuals.

JANUARY
Arise, Shine, for Your Light Is Come

In January we celebrate Epiphany, a church day and season whose origins many of us are unfamiliar with. Church historians have a variety of explanations for the origin of Epiphany. Apparently in the fourth century Epiphany was a significant and prominent church celebration— both in the Eastern (Orthodox) Church as a commemoration of Jesus's baptism in the Jordan, and in the Western Church as the "Feast of Three Miracles" (the visit of the Magi, Jesus' baptism, and the wedding at Cana where Jesus changed water into wine). Eventually, due to strong control from Rome, Epiphany came to be solely a celebration of the coming of the Magi.

The word epiphany means "manifestation"—God making himself known to the world. Among the themes that have come to be associated with this celebration, the coming of the Light into the world is very prominent. For that reason Isaiah 60—the passage "Arise, Shine, for Your Light Is Come" is based on—is most appropriate for Epiphany.

Both the paraphrase of Isaiah 60: 1-5,14, and 20 and the tune of this hymn are the work of Eric Glass, the pen name of a composer now living in Israel. The Psalter Hymnal arrangement included here is by Dale Grotenhuis.

The stanzas of this hymn may look difficult for a congregation to learn because of the many rhythmic variants caused by the irregular meter. (There are no two stanzas with the same number of syllables, and one line may vary as much as four syllables from one stanza to another.)

 With this difficulty in mind, I composed an anthem arrangement for this hymn (see insert) in which soloist or choir sing the stanzas and a choir with congregation responds with the refrains. The folk-like nature of the melody suggested an accompaniment of piano with flute.

When first introducing this hymn to the congregation, consider asking the congregation to sing only the last two refrains, giving them a chance to become familiar with the tune. As the hymn becomes more familiar, invite the congregation to join in on all the refrains and eventually on some of the stanzas.

FEBRUARY
I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord

Because more and more congregations are beginning Lent (which starts in 1991 on Wednesday, February 13) by celebrating the Lord's Supper, it seemed appropriate to select a communion hymn for the month of February. In both the Psalter Hymnal and Rejoice in the Lord, the setting for "I Come with Joy" is the American folk melody LAND OF REST. In the Psalter Hymnal the tune is harmonized by Annabel Morris Buchanan and in Rejoice in the Lord by Erik Routley.

The author of the text, Brian Wren, is one of today's leading hymn writers (see interview on pp. 28-32), especially known for his concern for issues of justice, both in language and in action. In the 1960s, English Congregational hymnody did little to address Christian responsibility in the world, concentrating instead on the church and the individual. Brian Wren found this emphasis too one-sided and focused many of his hymns on awakening Christians to their duty to the wider society. Concerning "I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord" Wren said:

It's purpose was…to start with an individualistic "I come with joy" and end with a sense of being bound together with everyone else. This was a deliberate progression because I wanted to move away from what I think is an overemphasis on the individual in traditional communion hymns.

"An Interview with Brian Wren" in The Hymn, vol. 32, January 1981

I have also composed a canonic setting for stanza 5, which can be used either at the conclusion of singing (in which case, use the regular ending) or as a choral response to the benediction (in which case, use the optional ending). The canon is itself a bit of text-painting, the two parts being "together bound," yet both going "our separate ways."

The accompanying ostinato suggested for flutes uses the notes that set my favorite line of the hymn in stanza 3: "the love that made us, makes us one." The two voices for the canon are represented as treble and bass, but need not be restricted to that. They could equally well refer to another division, such as the north and south halves of the congregation. In any case it would probably be most effective to have the two flutes separated by a significant distance for their dialogue.

Excerpt

Hymns of the Month scheduled for RW 18:
March: "I Love the Lord "
April: "The Lord Is Risen, Yes Indeed!"
May: "Eternal Spirit, God of Truth"

Reformed Worship 17 © September 1990 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.

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