My Soul in Stillness Waits; Psalm 98: Sing a New Song to the Lord; O Gladsome Light; Miren que bueno!/O Look and Wonder

All but one of the songs in this issue were included as part of service plans outlined in this issue of Reformed Worship. “My Soul in Stillness Waits” was sung as the opening hymn of every service during the Advent series from Hope Christian Reformed Church, Thunder Bay, Ontario (see p. 3). “O Gladsome Light” was recommended for the New Year’s Eve service plans (see p. 34). “Miren qué bueno¡” was sung at the joint English/Spanish service at West End Presbyterian Church in New York City (see p. 24).

ADVENT

MY SOUL IN STILLNESS WAITS

Several of Marty Haugen’s songs have been included in previous issues of Reformed Worship, including “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah” and “Shepherd Me, O God” (RW 50), “Gather Us In” (RW 48), and “To You, O Lord, I Lift My Soul” (Psalm 25, RW 44). A prolific writer, Haugen is one of the very few contemporary worship song composers who has “made it” as a full-time composer.

The text of “My Soul in Stillness Waits” is drawn from the historic “O” Antiphons that also generated the hymn “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” (see RW 36 for a complete service with artwork based on that hymn and the “O” Antiphons). Possibly because this song originally included two more stanzas based on Psalm 95, Haugen chose the responsorial style of psalm singing in which the congregation sings only the refrain and a soloist sings the verses.

This meditative prayer song is very appropriate for Advent, when the busyness of Christmas sometimes keeps us from the more significant focus of waiting for Christ’s coming and preparing for his coming again. Paul Tillich put it this way:

Our time is a time of waiting; waiting is its special destiny. And every time is a time of waiting, waiting for the breaking in of eternity. All time runs forward. All time, both history and in personal life, is expectation. Time itself is waiting, waiting not for another time, but for that which is eternal.

—quoted in An Advent Sourcebook, Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1988; 1-800-933-1800

I spoke with Marty Haugen recently about the responsorial pattern. After all, one of the hallmarks of the Protestant Reformation was the restoring of the congregation’s participation in song, and for four hundred years most congregations in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition sang everything that was sung in a service.

Haugen said he needed to work through that issue when he, coming from a Protestant background, accepted his first professional position in church music at a Roman Catholic parish. One of the goals of the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II has been to encourage people to sing. Teaching people to sing is one of Haugen’s strengths; that surely is what commended him to that parish. But the congregation needed to begin with short and easily accessible refrains. Haugen learned to appreciate a dialogue in which one person sang the main part of a psalm text and everyone joined in response on a short, easily learned (and even memorized) refrain. The interplay of one testifying to the whole assembly that in turn responds communally is an important way to encourage the whole body. He now values that element of testimony in a dialogue structure very much and sees it as a positive alternative to the hymn tradition in which everyone joins in on all the singing.

Like “O Come, O Come, Immanuel,” the text of “My Soul in Stillness Waits” introduces several names of the Messiah. Consider adding one stanza each Sunday during Advent, as follows: The first week the choir introduces stanza 1. In the second and following weeks the choir or a soloist sings the stanzas ( a new one added each week) and the congregation joins in on the refrain. For placement in a bulletin, include the music of the refrain only, and simply print the text of the verses, adding one each week.

CHRISTMAS

PSALM 98: SING A NEW SONG TO THE LORD

What did Reformed folks sing on Christmas when they only sang psalms (which they did exclusively for centuries)? Here’s a question in the other direction: What psalm does the Revised Common Lectionary assign to Christmas Day?

Actually, the lectionary, based on centuries of tradition, assigns three psalms for three possible services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day: Psalms 96, 97, and 98. In the current ecumenical scene, many churches in traditions steeped in hymnody without a strong heritage of psalmody will be singing psalms this year, due in no small part to the positive influence of the lectionary.

This setting of Psalm 98 is infectiously joyful. Certainly in the incarnation, God did something new! What a powerful testimony—to sing a psalm written centuries before the birth of Jesus that celebrates God’s triumph and power! Joining in this psalm that so confidently proclaims God’s purpose in the incarnation will offer a powerful balance to many of the carols we also sing this day.

Jesus came as a helpless baby, but God’s purpose in his coming is comprehensive, to the ends of the earth and the end of time.

This Christmas, sing this contemporary psalm setting with gusto, either at the beginning of the service or following one of the Scripture readings. Use piano and guitars, and sing the stanzas nonstop, “joining with the hills and the sea” (st. 4) as well as with the psalmist and the angels in bringing “glory to God.”

NEW YEAR'S EVE

O GLADSOME LIGHT

On New Year’s Eve many churches will hold special services to mark the end of the millennium. One way to reflect on the past two thousand years of the Christian church is to sing a variety of songs from different centuries. One of the earliest Christian hymns is “Phos Hilaron,” a Greek evening hymn from the third century. For most of the last two thousand years, evening hymns were sung by candlelight; this hymn has long been called the “Candle Lighting Hymn.”

In the fourth century, Saint Basil referred to this hymn as “old and ancient.” In 1899, exactly one hundred years ago, English poet laureate Robert Seymour Bridges translated the text into English, and it is has been found ever since in many English- language hymnals.

To my delight (no surprise to those who know me!), this text is usually set to the sixteenth-century Genevan tune nunc dimittis, also called le cantique de siméon. The tune was originally composed for the Song of Simeon (“Now May Your Servant, Lord”; see PsH 216; PH 605). This tune is one of the handful from the Genevan Psalter that are widely sung beyond the Reformed tradition.

Actually, the Song of Simeon would be another good choice for ending a New Year’s Eve service at the end of the millennium, especially if you are considering a Lord’s Supper service. Calvin always concluded Lord’s Supper services with the Song of Simeon. You may want to consider “O Gladsome Light” for the beginning of the service and the Song of Simeon for the end.

If you would like your choir to introduce “O Gladsome Light,” try an arrangement that would provide a lower and therefore softer mood for this candle-lighting song: sopranos on the alto part; altos on the tenor part (the altos will love it, and the tenors will thank you!); tenors or a tenor soloist on the melody (where it was originally composed); and basses on bass.

EPIPHANY

MIREN QUE BUENO!
O LOOK AND WONDER

Psalm 133 expresses the sheer delight that comes when God’s diverse people live together in unity. Even in the Old Testament, God made clear to Israel that they were blessed to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. But that teaching didn’t take root very deeply.

The global and international sweep of the kingdom was evident again at Epiphany, when God revealed the birth of Christ to Gentiles from far away who were drawn by the star to come and worship the newborn king. Years later, after Jesus had ascended, the apostle Peter still had to learn about the breadth of the kingdom through a vision in which God told him to break kosher and visit Cornelius. The kingdom of God extends far beyond the Jews. That’s good news!

It seems that every generation has to learn that same lesson. In our day of fast travel and vast movements of people as immigrants and refugees, the church needs not only to profess “one holy catholic church” but to model our unity in Christ in our own congregations. One beautiful way to demonstrate our unity in Christ is to sing songs that come from Christians in different lands, languages, and cultures. An even more direct expression of unity comes when we plan combined services with different groups who often worship apart.

I first heard this setting of Psalm 133 at the joint English/Spanish service at West End Presbyterian Church (see p. 24). It was composed by Pablo Sosa, professor at the Instituto Superior Evangelico de Estudios Teologicos in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Jorge Lockward speaks of the influence of Sosa on his ministry (see p. 20). Sosa is growing in influence as a speaker in North America, most recently at the July 1999 Hymn Society conference in Vancouver.

Notice that the short refrain is sung twice each time. Get a little brave; sing it in both languages, first in Spanish, then in English! Let loose with all kinds of percussion instruments—claves, maracas, drums, and more. With the claves, use different patterns, trying not to duplicate the melodic rhythm. Here are two possibilities:

Emily R. Brink (embrink@calvin.edu) is Senior Research Fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and former editor of Reformed Worship.