Songs for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany

The commentary combines song notes found in the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation and additional comments by Emily R. Brink, editor of Reformed Worship. The song notes were written by a team of writers and edited by Ron Rienstra, associate editor of Reformed Worship.

Advent

God of Justice, Ever Flowing

Click to listen [ full version ]

Note: The following song notes are from the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation.

Text

This rich text would fit well in both the service plans for the series “Mary, Mary, Ordinary” (p. 8) and the festival service for Christ the King Sunday (p. 18).

The text is filled with scriptural allusions, and the emphasis on justice is a very fitting theme for Advent. The first stanza contains a reference to the Song of Mary:

you have lifted up the humble
and the thrones of power cast down.

(Luke 1:52)

This stanza also acknowledges that the Christ child would “wear a crown.” This profound concern for justice is amazing—after all, Mary was a teenager when she wrote these words. Obviously she had studied and absorbed much of Scripture to be able to sing such a powerful song. Her testimony is a reminder to all of us, young and old, that discipleship means serving with a servant heart. The second and third stanzas draw our attention to the coming Christ child and urge us to give our love in Christ’s name.

The alternative Lenten stanzas articulate more fully our sin and plead for justice, for clean hearts, and for simple lives. One of the strengths of this text is the juxtaposition of Advent and Lent, reminding us that the search for justice comes at a cost. Again, scriptural references are clear, including the phrase “let your justice roll like waters” (Amos 5:24).

The text was written by Kathleen R. Moore, an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church. Beginning in 1985, she started writing a new hymn text each Advent/Christmas as a gift to her family and friends, in part because of a perceived lack of good Advent texts. Within a few years she found other themes and has now written over fifty hymns. Moore wrote this hymn in response to a search for hymns on

justice cosponsored by The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (www.hymnsociety.org) and Alternatives for Simple Living (www.SimpleLiving.org ); it was published in Sing Justice! Do Justice!, a collection of twenty-five songs resulting from that hymn search.

Music

Two accompaniments are provided for this Appalachian tune. The more flowing alternative setting intended for unison singing fits the first stanza well (“ever flowing”). Though the melody is presented in unison in the singer’s edition, consider giving the original accompaniment to your choir for a vocal rather than keyboard accompaniment to congregational singing. The ties are provided for keyboard to prevent the many repeated notes from sounding too “clunky” on piano or organ. The tune should have movement, but if played too fast it can sound trite and out of control. A nice walking tempo (q = 60) works well.

Since the tune is pentatonic and in AABA form, this tune works well for singing in canon, with one group (or instrument) beginning one measure after the other.

Ideas for Use
  • For any service that emphasizes justice or discipleship.
  • Also useful for Epiphany, with its references to “coming as a baby” and “bringing gifts.”

Advent

View the Present
Through the Promise

Click to listen [ full version ]

The first time I sang this hymn I was very moved. I was planning a hymn festival featuring tunes by Roy Hopp, a composer who lives in Grand Rapids and is director of music at Woodlawn Christian Reformed Church. (Incidentally, he also prepares our music typesetting work on the Finale program, including this song!) As I looked through many of his tunes, both published and unpublished, I came across this one set to a text that beautifully looks forward to the second Advent. Rather than concentrating on the past—Christ’s first coming—the text focuses on the present and our hope for the future. Each stanza probes a different dimension of working out our salvation with the hope and promise of Christ’s return. I found the tune to be an excellent match for this text. What an encouragement to weary Christians longing for Christ’s return!

Note: The following song notes are from the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation.

Text

This hymn grapples with the “already, but not yet” of Advent, urging us to respond in gratitude to Christ as a “present” and a “promise” given. Based on the repeated conviction that “Christ will come again” it calls us to action, to a transformation of life that we might be signs: a small but real portion of the coming kingdom that points toward the complete reality.

Music

Play this sturdy tune at a steady andante tempo (q = 80). The consistent invitation to sing “Christ will come again” in harmony reinforces the source of our Advent hope. Make the most of the alteration between the unison singing and the harmony. Use a brass ensemble and/or choir on the harmony parts, or have a choir or a soloist sing most of the text and have the congregation join in on “Christ will come again.”

Ideas for Use
  • During the Advent season.
  • As an anchor for a liturgy on the first Sunday of Advent: use the first stanza in the Approach to God, the second stanza at the Proclamation, and the third in the Response to God.
  • As a response to a portion of an Advent prayer that follows the contours of the stanzas.

Source

The text was written by Thomas Troeger, professor of preaching and communications at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and a widely published author of hymns as well as several books on liturgy and preaching.

For different collections of texts and tunes by both Troeger and Hopp, check the Book Service of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (www.hymnsociety.org).

Christmas

Jesus, Name Above All Names

Click to listen [ full version ]

Note: The following song notes are from the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation.

Text

A litany of many of the biblical names of Jesus. It contains echoes of Isaiah 9 and Luke 1 (the Magnificat). Several other stanzas have been added anonymously over the years. Some Christians have a tradition of meditating on the different scriptural names of Christ. Here are some examples from various sources:

  • I Am, Lord of the Gentiles, Lord God Almighty, Prince of Peace, El Shaddai, God Is Sufficient, Shepherd of Souls, King of Kings.
  • Lily of the Valley, Son of David, Rose of Sharon, the Alpha and the Omega, Seed of Jesse, Morning Star.
  • Jesus, our Intercessor, promised Messiah, Bread of Life, Giver of living water, mighty Redeemer, Son of God.

Music

This melody flows easily but perhaps suffers from having no clear melodic climax. Make full use of the rests to give the song focus and to keep it from being one long phrase. Keep the tempo going (dotted quarter = 54-66), but make sure the first two notes of the first measure don’t drag and the eighth notes don’t seem jumpy. It can be played majestically or reflectively. Select your accompaniment (organ, piano, or guitar with simple finger-picking) to match.

Ideas for Use
  • During Christmas
  • At a service praising the name of Jesus and reflecting on the many names by which he is known.
  • At the start of worship or at communion, to focus on the Lord.
  • In conjunction with other hymns: “Fairest Lord Jesus” (“Beautiful Savior”) or during Christmas, “O Holy Night.”

Source

Written by Naida Hearn, who died earlier this year. No other information is available about Naida Hearn.

Scripture

Isaiah 9:6; Luke 1:31-35; Matthew 1:21-23; 2 Thessalonians 1:12

Epiphany/Communion

Somos pueblo que camina/
We Are People on a Journey

Click to listen [ full version ]

On Epiphany we remember the long journey of the Magi who came looking for the king of the Jews. All of us are on a journey, and the journey for some is long and hard. Yet for those in Christ, that journey is headed toward the table of the Lord, where we are fed and nourished. Consider singing this simple folk hymn during a communion service this Epiphany.

Note: The following song notes are from the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation.

Text

On a journey long and often painful, God’s people do not despair. We still gather at God’s feast, and gather joyfully—for we find at the table our hope, our unity, our peace, and our justice.

This is a wonderful song to sing in Spanish; at least sing both Spanish and English on the short repeated refrain. Given its origins (see note below), it is appropriate for congregational leaders to compose their own stanzas to sing following those offered here.

Music

The playful Nicaraguan folk rhythms—especially the play of 3/4 against 6/8—give this piece its vitality. Accompany with piano, guitars, and lots of hand percussion (see below). A marimba sound is fitting, as well as woodwinds. Avoid strings. Keep up a brisk tempo (q = 104-1116), and remember to repeat the refrain each time. You might thin the accompaniment significantly during the stanzas and have them sung by a soloist or small group, and then pull out all the stops for each refrain. An improvised keyboard accompaniment could use the right hand to emphasize the 6/8 time while the left hand emphasizes 3/4.

Ideas for Use

• As an entrance song, even a processional.
• In preparation for communion.

Source

This is an entrance song for the Missa Popular Nicaraguense (Popular Nicaraguan Mass). In the wake of the Vatican II reforms, this mass was written both for and by laypeople, an articulation of a particular, local faith community. But it has since spread to many other Latin American nations and churches.