O Sing a Song of Bethlehem

O Sing a Song of Bethlehem

Text by: Louis F Benson 1899

Generally sung to: Kingsfold, a traditional English melody

Here is a YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/nRXvyIjWEHQ

O sing a song of Bethlehem, of shepherds watching there,
And of the news that came to them from angels in the air.
The light that shone on Bethlehem fills all the world today;
Of Jesus’ birth and peace on earth the angels sing alway.

O sing a song of Nazareth, of sunny days of joy;
O sing of fragrant flowers’ breath, and of the sinless Boy.
For now the flowers of Nazareth in every heart may grow;
Now spreads the fame of His dear Name on all the winds that blow.

O sing a song of Galilee, of lake and woods and hill,
Of Him Who walked upon the sea and bade the waves be still.
For though like waves on Galilee, dark seas of trouble roll,
When faith has heard the Master’s Word, falls peace upon the soul.

O sing a song of Calvary, its glory and dismay,
Of Him Who hung upon the tree, and took our sins away.
For He Who died on Calvary is risen from the grave,
And Christ, our Lord, by Heaven adored, is mighty now to save.

 

Louis F Benson (1855-1930) was born and lived most of his life in Philadelphia, PA. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and was admitted to the Bar in 1877 and practiced law until about 1884 when left the legal profession and started his theological studies. He was ordained as a Presbyterian Minister in 1888. In 1894 he resigned his position and devoted the rest of his life to literary efforts. He is most well-known for his work on hymnody, writing several books about the history of various hymns, collections of hymns, and translations of hymns. His personal library numbered over 9000 volumes upon his death.

Benson spent a considerable effort in editing the text of the most commonly used hymns in the English speaking churches. Before his work, changes and revisions had been made to many hymns to such an extent the original meanings and theology were often completely altered; as it continues to this day. He listed five characteristics which define a good hymn: 1) lyrical quality; 2) literary excellence; 3) liturgical propriety; 4) a tone of reverence; 5) spiritual reality. His editorial efforts were directed to returning the hymn text to their original versions as much as possible. He would allow for some alterations but demanded the changes fit his criteria of a “good hymn” and did no damage to the author’s original text.

While this hymn is often used exclusively during the Advent and Christmas seasons, it can just as easily be used throughout the year. Within its four short stanzas it traces the ministry of Christ from his birth in Bethlehem, life in Nazareth, his work in Galilee, and finally his death at Calvary.

 




Fairest Lord Jesus

Fairest Lord Jesus

Author unknown

Generally sung to “Crusader’s March” This tune is sometimes known as St. Elizabeth. Composer of tune unknown. It first appeared in Schlesische Volkslieder (Sicilian Folk Songs) in 1842.

Here is a link for a YouTube recording:

“Crusader’s March” http://youtu.be/XW5bkIUQqZc

“Schonster Herr Jesu”  http://youtu.be/zxC2VlKjZC4 (a less commonly used tune)

1 Fairest Lord Jesus,
ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish,
Thee will I honor,
thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.

2 Fair are the meadows,
fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing.

3 Fair is the sunshine,
fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter,
Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast.

4 Beautiful Savior!
Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor,
praise, adoration,
now and forevermore be thine.

The first thing I would like to do, in this hyper-politically correct era, is deal with the title of the tune most commonly associated with this wonderful text. It is not, as the title might suggest, something which was sung by the crusaders on their way to liberate Israel.  The earliest evidence of the tune is from the Schlesische Volkslieder (Sicilian Folk Songs) which was published in 1842. Here the tune was known as: “Schönster Herr Jesu” (Most beautiful Lord Jesus).  Franz Liszt used the tune in his oratorio “The Legend of St. Elizabeth” (1862) for the Crusader’s March.  This is where the names “St. Elizabeth” and “Crusader’s March” originated.

As a song of adoration “Fairest Lord Jesus” is second to none. This hymn uses the physical world, and all of its beauty to set the beauty of the Lord Jesus as being even greater.

Here are some of the Scriptural references from the first stanza:

Psalm 27:4 One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.

Mark 9:3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.

John 5:23 That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honors not the Son honors not the Father which hath sent him.

These poetic expressions of the beauty of Christ are developed and expanded through the balance of the hymn.

There is an important development with the 4th and 5th lines of each stanza. 1) Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor, 2) Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer 3) Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer and finally 4) Glory and honor, praise, adoration, now and forevermore be thine. The song moves from our reactions towards the Son to ever more powerful descriptions of Jesus, each one building upon the previous. In the final stanza the initial: “O thou of God and man the Son,” becomes: “Son of God and Son of Man!” And with this the declaration that all glory and honor, praise and adoration, are forever Jesus’.




,

This is My Father’s World

This is My Father’s World

By: Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901)

Usually sung to: Terra Beata by:  Franklin Shepherd (1852-1930)

Here is a YouTube recording:

http://youtu.be/ThlHAfnCUAA

1 This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas–
His hand the wonders wrought.

2 This is my Father’s world:
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.

3 This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad!

 

Maltbie Davenport Babcock was born in Syracuse, NY on August 3, 1858 and died in Naples, Italy on May 18th, 1901 as he was returning from a trip to the Holy Land. He graduated from Syracuse University and Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. After briefly serving two smaller congregations in Lockport, NY, he became the pastor at the Brick Church in Lockport. He would take frequent walks in the countryside surrounding his hometown which sat upon a hill overlooking Lake Ontario. He would often explain that “I am going out to see my Father’s world” as he set off on these outings. He was very athletic, having been recognized for his accomplishments in swimming and baseball at the university. He was also a skilled amateur musician playing both the organ and piano.

This poem originally had 16 four-line stanzas. Shortly after his death, his good friend Franklin Shepherd (1852-1930) adapted an old English folk melody he learned as a child and condensed Babcock’s poem to the form we find today. The tune he wrote for it he titled: “Terra Beata” which means: terra (earth) beata (blessed… as in “beatitudes”)

Recently, I came across three different articles which look at various cosmological issues of time, space, and dimensions. One was written from the perspective that if it were not for the absolute precision of the universe; so many aspects of cosmological history and law having to be exactly as they are, the universe couldn’t exist in its current state if this were not the case. The conclusion was there must be a God for this to have happened. Another looked at the same set of issues and concluded that this was proof that there was no God. The final article looked at the 10 dimensions of reality physicist/philosophers believe can be postulated. One of the most fascinating part of this article was the discussion of the 4th and 5th dimensions.  I won’t even begin to try to explain these; I will leave that to my physicist brother. But suffice it to say what was described as being knowable from these perspectives completely explained the Biblical concepts of Jerimiah 1:5 “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Or: Romans 8:29 “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Existing outside of time (the 4th dimension) would put one in the position to see all of time in an instant and not experience it linearly as we must.

As I look out of my office window, I see snow covered ground, evergreen bushes, and bare, leafless trees. The sky is clear with only a few whiffs of clouds. This could be seen as either the end of life which winter inevitably brings to the north, or the season which is preparation for the return of life in the spring. Our understanding of time, the seasons, and God’s providence would determine how we understand the world we live within.

This is our Father’s world! All of nature loudly proclaims this to be true. From the cosmos filled with galaxies unknowable, whose light we finally see hundreds of millions and billions of years after it was made, to the strangest sub-atomic particles and dark matter we can only theorize about, we can rest assured that His hand is present.

For all we know about life, we still do not understand what it is which is life. Yet, this mystery we see all around us, the birds in the air and spider descending on a thin string, all share in this wondrous mystery. Everything which has the breath of life declares the wonder of our Father and his work. In this we should take eternal comfort. Though we cannot always understand why Evil might overcome Good for a day, God is the ruler over everything, it is our Father’s world, and in this we shall be glad.