Posted by: chuckbumgardner | December 20, 2007

Incarnation Hymnody

Some random jottings on the songs which believers might sing or hear around Christmas:
“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” is a marvelous song.  In our church’s hymnal it is included in the Advent section, but none of the verses in our hymnal speak of Christ’s advent! When the text begins, “Of the Father’s love begotten,” it continues, “Ere the worlds began to be.”  The point of which, of course, is to demonstrate the eternality of Christ.  Other verses, not included in our hymnal, speak of the Advent:
He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!
O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!
This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!


“Joy to the World” is more a hymn of Christ’s second advent than his first.  The tune is drawn from Handel’s Messiah.  If you are familiar with the lesser-known parts of that work, hum to yourself the first four notes of “Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates,” and you will find the first four notes of “Joy to the World.”


“Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” whose text is from Charles Wesley, is one of the more theologically astute Christmas hymns that is commonly sung.  I love to sing the second verse in particular:

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. 


Because of the meter of the tune, we often sing “Silent Night” incorrectly, or at least thoughtlessly, in several ways.  In the first verse, the structure of the text should be understood thus: 

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace. 

As well, the phrase, “round yon virgin mother and Child” can lend itself to being sung, “round yon virgin, mother and Child,” which of course is not the point.

In the third verse, the adjective “radiant” modifies “love’s pure light,” not “beams,” and “beams” is a verb, not a noun.  The phrase is, “Son of God, love’s pure light radiant beams from Thy holy face.”  Additionally, the Son of God is being addressed, not equated with “love’s pure light.” Grammatically, the light is radiant, and it is beaming from the face of the Holy Child.  “Son of God [vocative], love’s pure light [subject] radiant [adjective] beams [verb] from Thy holy face [adverbial phrase modifying “beams”].”


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