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Notes on the Notes – January 5, 2020


This week’s scripture readings:

Isaiah 60:1-6                  Matthew 2:1-12

This week’s music:

“The First Nowell” (VU #91)

“The first Nowell the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay a-keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.  The first nowell
Nowell, Nowell, born is the King of Israel.

They looked up and saw a star,
Shining in the east, beyond them far;
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

And by the light of that same star three wise men came from country far;
To seek for a king was their intent, and to follow the star wherever it went.

This star drew nigh to the northwest; o’er Bethlehem it took its rest,
And there it did both stop and stay, right over the place where Jesus lay.

Then entered in those wise men three, full reverently upon their knee,
And offered there in his presence their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
That hath made heaven and earth of nought, and with his blood our life hath bought.

Nowell, Nowell, born is the King of Israel.”

Since medieval times, telling the story of the birth of Christ in song has been an important tradition, especially in the Western Church.

“Nowell,” the English transliteration of the word “noel”, comes from the old French “nouel,” which is now written in modern French as “noël.” The derivation of this word probably comes from the earlier Latin term “natalis,” relating to a birth. Some suggest that “noel” is also related to “novellare” or “nouvelle” meaning “new” – something to tell.   In modern times, the words “nowel” and “noel” are used interchangeably to mean “Christmas.”

“The First Nowell” probably extends back to the 17th century in its oral form, but it was published first in Some Ancient Christmas Carols in 1823.  It appeared originally in nine stanzas, five of which are common in most hymnals. Though the angels’ appearance to the shepherds (Luke 2:1-20) is the subject of the first stanza, most of the carol focuses on the journey of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), giving an overall feeling of Epiphany.

The tune, a traditional West Country melody, may be a fragment of an older English carol melody.  Sir John Stainer (1840-1901) standardized the melody as we know it and provided a harmonization that has become the customary one today. 

The final stanza in Voices United draws all humanity into the story and extends the salvation narrative to Christ’s suffering.  This closing verse places the birth of Jesus into the fuller context of redemption.

See Lady Antebellum at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVtNXp56kiQ

See Pentatonix at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u5UvnKlCTA

Hear Natalie Cole at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rf6fTRTQrG4

“As With Gladness Men of Old” (VU #81)

“As with gladness men of old did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light, leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most gracious Lord, may we evermore your splendour see.

As with joyful steps they sped, to that lowly manger bed,
There to bend the knee before Christ, whom heaven and earth adore;
So may we with eager pace ever seek your throne of grace.wise men

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger crude and bare,

So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,

All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to you, our heavenly King.

Holy Jesus, every day keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last

Where they need no star to guide, where no clouds your glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright none shall need created light;
You its light, its joy, its crown, you its sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing hallelujah to our King.”

William Dix, an insurance adjuster and amateur hymn-writer, wrote this song in 1858 after hearing the Epiphany Gospel.  The text is based upon Matthew 2:9-11 and Dix first published it in his own collection called Hymns of Love and Joy.   W.H. Monk adapted the tune from a 19th-century German choral specifically for this text and published it in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861).

Hear the hymn played on pipe organ at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97wIbDRAJwU

“A Light is Gleaming” (VU #82)

“A light is gleaming, spreading its arms throughout the night, living in the light.
share its gladness, God’s radiant love is burning bright, living in the light.

When light comes pouring into the darkest place,
It hurts our eyes to see the glow.
Sometimes a word of hope reminds us of our fears,
Our memories and tears.

When night is round us and every shadow grows,bright-light
A star is there to light our way.
It tells a story of Jesus who came near to say:
“God’s light will ever stay.”

And Jesus showed us a brighter path to walk.
He showed us things we hadn’t seen.
Now we, like Jesus, can help creation shine,
And this will be a sign:

So let us live in the brightness God has giv’n,
And let us rise to see the dawn.
We trust that God is here asparkle and ablaze,
Warming all our days.”

The words of this beautiful song remind us that Jesus is the light and that, through following his way, we too can be a light in the world.  The song was first published in 1992 in Stickpeople, a collection of songs by the Canadian composer Linnea Good.

“In the Darkness Shines the Splendour” (VU #92)

“In the darkness shines the splendour of the World who took our flesh,
Welcoming, in love’s surrender, death’s dark shadow at his crèche.
Bearing every human story, World made flesh reveals his glory.

Light of nations, veiled in history, born of woman’s flesh and blood,
Calling to the depths of mystery restless hearts that seek the good.
Healing every human story, Word made flesh reveals his glory.

Broken bread, sustaining us in sorrow, wine poured out to toast our joy;Hands held together recieving communion at a modern church
Exodus and new tomorrow, life’s full promise to enjoy!
Gladdening every human story,
Word made flesh reveals his glory.

All God’s people, sing in jubilation
Of the birth that sets us free,
Telling of the revelation:  Jesus, God’s epiphany.
Celebrate the human story!  Word made flesh reveals our glory.”

The words of this hymn draw our attention to Jesus as the incarnation of God’s glory.  The third verse also connects us to the sacrament of communion.  Bernadette Gasslein’s new hymn is set to the familiar tune IRBY, which is the tune for “Once in Royal David’s City,” composed by Henry John Gauntlett.   The hymn was published in 1994 in the Canadian Catholic book of Worship III.  

Hear the melody on pipe organ at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fc-XXz6zTW8

“O Light of Nations” (VU #84)

“O Light of Nations, fill the earth;
Our faith and hope and love renew.
Come, lead the peoples to your peace,
As stars once led the way to you.”

Ruth Duck has written a text fitting for the season of Epiphany, with its sense of wonder at the incarnation and its petition that through Christ’s revelation that our lives may be changed. The hymn was commissioned by the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. The words were written in 1991. We will be using the fourth verse of the hymn as our Benediction response this week. CANONBURY is one of a number of 19th-century hymn tunes adapted from instrumental works by well-known composers. The melody is from Robert Schumann’s Nachtstucke, Opus 23, No. 4 (1839) for solo piano.

To Ponder:  

How does being part of a church community help you to actively spread the light of Christ in the world today?

Christian Christmas Nativity Scene

Categories: Notes on the Notes