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Notes on the Notes – December 29, 2019

First Sunday after Christmas

To Live in Exile

This week’s Scripture Readings:

Isaiah 63:7-9   Matthew 2:13-23

This week’s music:

“Unto Us a Boy is Born” (VU #54)

“Unto us a boy is born!
King of all creation,
Came he to a world forlorn, the Lord of every nation,
The Lord of every nation.

Christ from heaven descending low comes, on earth a stranger;
Ox and ass their owner know, becradled in the manger,
Becradled in the manger.

Herod then with fear was filled:
“A prince,” he said, “in Jewry!”;

All the little boys he killed at Bethl’em in his fury,
At Bethl’em in his fury.


Now may Mary’s son, who came so long ago to love us,
Lead us all with hearts aflame unto the joys above us,
Unto the joys above us.

Omega and Alpha he!
Let the organ thunder, while the choir with peals of glee doth rend the air asunder,
Doth rend the air asunder.”

Puer nobis nascitur“, usually translated as “Unto Us is Born a Son”, is a medieval Christmas carol from the 14th century (although it may have originated much earlier).

The carol became popular as a processional hymn following a translation by George Ratcliffe Woodward (1859-1934) first published in 1902. Percy Dearmer also translated the hymn for inclusion in the 1928 Oxford Book of Carols as “Unto Us a Boy is Born.”  Both translations are commonly used.

The carol references the story of the slaughter of the innocents as recorded in the Book of Matthew.

Hear the carol at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dcZfYAJkrA

“Joy is Now in Every Place” (VU #45)

“Joy is now in every place,
Christmas lightens every face;
Now be with us, in your grace,
O hear us, bless us, holy Jesus. star-of-bethlehem1

May the star that shone that night,
Making your poor stable bright,
Fill our hearts with love and light,
O hear us, bless us, holy Jesus.

Through the New Year let it stay,
Leading us upon your way,
Making Christmas every day,
O hear us, bless us, holy Jesus.

Now and ever may we find
Your good news to fill our mind:
Peace and love to humankind,
O hear us, bless us, holy Jesus.”

According to the Canadian Youth Hymnal (1939), the source of this carol was Child Education, December 1929, although the author of the words is unknown.  The German carol tune has been in use since the 1500s, when it was used in medieval mystery plays about the nativity.  It is the tune for the German carol “Joseph lieber, Joseph mein.”

“What Child is This” (VU #74)

What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;

What child is thisHaste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading…

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh;
Come, one and all, to own him.
The King of Kings salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone him….”

The lyrics of this hymn were written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix.  He was one of more than 20 lyricists who chose the traditional melody of Greensleeves as the music for his verse.   In the era while Dix was writing hymns and raising a family, Christmas was not the celebration it is today. Neither was it a season where many openly celebrated the birth of Christ.  Puritan groups feared that if set aside as a special day, Christmas would become a day of pagan rituals more than a very serious time of worship. In this context, it was unusual for Dix to feel moved to write about Christ’s birth, since many hymn writers of the period ignored Christmas altogether.”*

Watch The Gardiner Sisters at:  https://youtu.be/bg0-n47JQFM

“A Voice Was Heard in Ramah” (MV #111)

“A voice was heard in Ramah that could not be consoled,
As Rachel wept for children she could no longer hold.
For Herod ruled the nation, yet feared the Infant King.
How great the devastation that fear and anger bring!

O God, we hear the crying for little ones of yours;
For many still are dying in conflicts and in wars
In every troubled nation, on every violent street,
How great the lamentation when fear and anger meet!

Whenever one is weeping, the whole world suffers, too.
Yet, Jesus, as we serve them, we’re also serving you.
So may we not ignore them, nor turn our eyes away,
But help us labour for them to bring a better day.

O Prince of Peace, you lead us in ways of truth and grace.
May we be brave to practice your peace in every place
To love each fear-filled nation, to serve each troubled street,
How great the celebration when peace and justice meet!”

This hymn for peace was written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette in 2004. It is based on the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents in Matthew 2.  Ramah was a city in ancient Israel in the land allocated to the tribe of Benjamin (about 8 km north of Jerusalem).  When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, those taken captive were assembled in Ramah before being moved to Babylon (Jeremiah 40:1).

Jeremiah said:  A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more (Jeremiah 31:15 NIV).   Rachel – the ancestress of the three tribes, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin – had so desired children that she considered herself dead without them. (Genesis 30:1) Jeremiah said that she was figuratively weeping because of the loss of the people killed or taken in captivity.

In the New Testament, Ramah is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew (2:18), where it is stated that Jeremiah’s prophecy about Rachel received “a second accomplishment,” in the slaughter of boy children carried out when Herod was king:

Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

Through the words of the second, third and fourth verses, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette draws the comparison between the words of the Gospel of Matthew and events in our world today.   She also contrasts a world where “fear and anger meet” with a world where “where hope and justice meet” and offers us a choice to be part of God’s kingdom through our works and actions.

The hymn is sung to the tune, LLANGLOFFAN,  a Welsh folk melody collected in 1865.  Hear the tune played on organ at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-wkVh5gyTA

“What Can I Give Him?” (VU #55)

“What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man, I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give him – give my heart.”

We will be using the fourth verse of the carol “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” as our offering response. Christina Rossetti’s verse places the singer at the manger, with the reminder to give the most valuable gift of all – “give my heart.”

“When Heaven’s Bright with Mystery” (VU #93)

“When heaven’s bright with mystery and science searches nature’s art,
When all creation yearns for peace and hope sinks deep in human hearts,
                Appear to us, O Holy Light;
                Lift from our eyes the shades of night.Herod.jpg

When Herod barters power and lives and Rachel’s weeping fills the night,
When suffering’s mask marks every face, and Love’s a refugee in flight,
Reveal to us your word of grace and make us witness to your peace.

When fragile faith, like desert wind, blows dry and empty, hope erased,
When withered grass and fading flower proclaim again our day’s brief space,
Breathe on the clay of our despair and work a new creation there.

When heaven’s bright with mystery and stars still lead an unknown way, when love still lights a gentle path where courts of power can hold no sway,
There with the Magi, let us kneel, our gifts to share, God’s world to heal.”

The words for this hymn were written by Rob Johns, a United Church minister in Winnipeg, as a submission for Voices United (1985).  Each verse is set up like a when/then pairing of what we see happening in our world and our request for God’s response in us.  The reference to Herod and Rachel comes from the book of Matthew, where Herod’s slaughter of the innocents fulfills a prophecy from Jeremiah.  Although the words reference the Biblical narrative, it is quite easy to think of events happening in our modern times that mirror the lyrics of the hymn.

The words are set to THE SUSSEX CAROL, which is a folk tune that was collected in Sussex in 1904 and which is often referred to by it’s first line “On Christmas night all Christians sing.”

See the hymn sung in worship at:  https://youtu.be/zgHPF9cL3MM

To Ponder:

Where do you see God in the exile experience?  


Categories: Notes on the Notes