December 15, 2014

O Holy Night

by Bethany

Daily Reading
Zechariah 2 (Listen – 1:56)
John 5 (Listen – 5:26)

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

— Luke 2.4-7

Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was a merchant of wines and spirits in a small town in France. He was also known for his poetry and literature. In December 1847, the priest of the parish that Cappeau sometimes attended asked him to write a poem for Christmas mass. On his way to Paris, as Cappeau was reading and meditating on Luke 2, he wrote the words of “Cantique de Noel” (“O Holy Night”). He decided, however, that his poem needed to be a song. Yet he was not musically inclined.

His friend, Aldophe Charles Adams, was an accomplished musician and composer. Although Adams was Jewish and did not celebrate Christmas, he was committed to his friendship with Cappeau. Having already written several operas and ballets, Adams composed an original score that was ready for production within three weeks. On Christmas Eve, it was performed at mass.

“Cantique de Noel” was initially accepted by many churches, but it was later denounced as “unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and its absence of the spirit of religion.” [1] In truth, it was discovered that Cappeau had joined the socialist movement and that Adams was Jewish. Although the church tried to bury the song, the people continued to sing it.

A decade later, John Sullivan Dwight, who was a graduate of Harvard College and Divinity School, a Unitarian minister, a writer, and an abolitionist, discovered “Cantique de Noel.” He read it in French and fell in love with its lyrics, especially, “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” He published its English translation in Dwight’s Journal of Music, which popularized it in the United States.

The first audible sound ever heard on AM radio airways happened in 1906 on Christmas Eve. Reginald Fessenden—a young university professor and former chemist for Thomas Edison—used a new type of generator and spoke into a microphone. He read the birth of Christ from Luke’s account of the gospel. After finishing the recitation, he picked up his violin and played, “O Holy Night.” It became the first song ever sent through the airwaves. For the final verse, he set down his violin and sang the words.

O Holy Night (Listen: Chris Tomlin – 6:16)

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

___________________

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December 12, 2014

Go, Tell It On The Mountain

by Bethany

Daily Reading
Haggai 1 (Listen – 2:34)
John 2 (Listen – 2:47)

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

— Luke 2.20

Many African-American slaves could not read or write. So their works, including their spiritual hymns, were passed down by oral tradition. The few songs that made it to publication spread from fields to small churches to roadwork gangs to large churches to concert halls.

Not long after the Civil War ended in 1865, a man named John Wesley Work became a church choir director in Nashville, Tennessee. Hoping that the younger generation of African-American Southerners would understand the importance of spirituality, he taught them songs that their ancestors sang during the days of slavery. His choir, which included several members of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, traveled around the world, appearing in England before Queen Victoria and at the White House before President Chester Arthur.

His son, John Wesley Work II, became a composer, a collector of Negro spirituals, and a professor at Fisk College, and his wife became the music teacher for the Jubilee Singers. Along with his brother, Frederick, the Works children preserved a large number of Negro folk songs.

Frederick was the one who first uncovered “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” The song had come from the fields of the South. Born from the inspiration of a slave’s Christmas, it was unique among the songs that the Works family preserved because few spirituals had been passed down about Christmas. Most talked about earthly struggle and suffering and the joy and happiness of heaven.

Interestingly, some of the people who first heard the news of the birth of Jesus—that is, the wise men—could not “go tell it on the mountain.” In his gospel account, Matthew writes, “After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, [the wise men] departed to their own country by another way.” (Matthew 2:12) Today, of course, we are commissioned to “go tell it on the mountain” by some of the last words of Jesus: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

Go, Tell It On The Mountain (Listen: Francesca Battistelli – 4:33)
Refrain

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light.

Refrain

The shepherds feared and trembled,
When lo! above the earth,
Rang out the angels chorus
That hailed the Savior’s birth.

Refrain

Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn.

Refrain

___________________

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December 11, 2014

Little Drummer Boy

by Steven Dilla

Daily Reading
Zephaniah 3 (Listen – 3:35)
John 1 (Listen – 6:04)

Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. 

— Psalm 149.3-4

The town of St. Joseph, which sits 60 miles north of Kansas City, MO, originally served as a starting point for the Oregon Trail. In it’s heyday, the streets would have been filled with thousands of pioneers provisioning for the final time before “jumping off”——a term used for leaving civilization behind for the nearly half-year journey west. Almost thirty years after the Civil War, in 1892, Katherine Kennicott Davis was born into a second-generation pioneer family who settled in the old trailhead town. By the time Davis was born the railroad had expanded and St. Joseph was no longer as influential. Much like the town they lived in, Davis’ family was neither culturally elite or affluential, but even as a child she showed unique talent which would shape her life.

While pioneers risked everything to travel from St. Joseph into the promise and peril of the Wild West, Davis would take her own risks, by cutting her path east. After graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she braved trans-Atlantic travel to study under Nadia Boulanger. In Paris at the time, Boulanger had taught around the world, from Juilliard School to the Royal Academy of Music. It was risky for a woman to travel, let-alone pursue a global education in Davis’ day, yet she had such recognizable talent——her first musical composition was written at age 15.

Davis returned to the US and, with a world-class education, dedicated herself to teaching children music at various schools across New England. The majority of the more than 600 pieces Davis’ composed during her lifetime were for the children she taught. In 1941 Davis penned “The Carol of the Drum,” which would be popularized as “Little Drummer Boy” when the Trapp Family Singers picked it up in 1955. Despite her volume of work, and level of talent, Davis isn’t widely known for any other song.

The story of the “Little Drummer Boy” embodies part the beauty of Davis’ story. The song begins with a boy taking a risk to travel and sit with someone great. The boy is aware but unhindered by his simple heritage, offering his musical talent with great diligence. It could seem odd to give such talent to a child, whom many overlook, but the boy receives his prize: gratitude from the One whom he is performing for all along. Davis may have left St. Joseph, but the spirit of adventure native to her town mixed with her talent, diligence, and love for children to give us one of our most cherished Christmas songs.

Little Drummer Boy (Listen: Burl Ives – 3:17)
Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

So to honor Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
When we come

Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

___________________

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December 10, 2014

Angels from the Realms of Glory

by Bethany

Daily Reading
Zephaniah 2 (Listen – 2:40)
Luke 24 (Listen – 6:27)

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

— Luke 2.13-14

In November 1771, James Montgomery was born in Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland. His parents were Irish Moravian missionaries, who died when James was only five years old. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, he had no interest in school. By the age of twenty, he spent his time largely unemployed and frequently homeless for weeks at a time.

He was interested, however, in writing. The radical editor of the Sheffield Register hired James to write stories. When he was twenty-three, he became the owner of the Register, when the past owner was run out of town for writing radical editorials about Irish freedom under English rule. Although James changed the name to the Sheffield Iris, he did not change the editorial posture. Between his continuing to publish radical editorials and being a leader in the abolitionist movement, James twice landed in prison. Each time he was released, however, he continued to point to freedom for all.

When he was not fighting for Irish freedom or against English slavery, James was reading his Bible. He wanted to understand the motivation behind the lives (and deaths) of his parents. In time, his studies and zeal blended and sent the Irishman on a new mission. One of the early hints of his change was revealed on Christmas Eve 1816. On that day, his editorial did not divide the Irish from the English. Instead, it unified all of its readers.

“Nativity,” which later came to be known as, “Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” told the story of angels proclaiming the birth of the Savior for all people—Irish and English. Reading between the lines, the hymn has a bit of social commentary. Montgomery eventually returned to the Moravian church and, inspired by his parents, became a missionary. He continued writing hymns until the day he died in 1854. By that time, he had been twice imprisoned for his beliefs and had heard “Nativity” sung in the Anglican churches in London.

Angels from the Realms of Glory (The Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle – 4:33)
Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:

Chorus
Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ, the newborn King.

Shepherds, in the fields abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with man is now residing,
Yonder shines the infant light:

Chorus

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations,
Ye have seen his natal star:

Chorus

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you—break your chains:

Chorus

Though an infant now we view him,
He shall fill his Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to him;
Every knee shall then bow down:

Chorus

All creation, join in praising
God the Father, Spirit, Son,
Evermore your voices raising,
To th’ eternal Three in One:

___________________

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December 9, 2014

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

by Bethany

Daily Reading
Zephaniah 1 (Listen – 2:58)
Luke 23 (Listen – 6:53)

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

— Luke 2.9-12

In the fifteenth century, church hymns for worship were usually written in Latin and set to somber melodies. Although few church members admitted that they disliked the tunes, the laymen of the time had no power to change them. The peasant class, however, developed an underground genre of worship music that was written in common language and set to lively melodies. This was their musical rebellion and it led to the foundation of our modern collection of Christmas carols.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is an English Christmas carol that came out of this tradition. Although it was written as a direct reaction to the church music of the fifteenth century, it was not published until 1833. Ten years later, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens appeared with a quote from the hymn. Like the members of the old church order in the fifteenth century, Scrooge did not want to hear light and vigorous Christmas songs: “ … at the first sound of ‘God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!’ Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.”

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Listen: Ella Fitzgerald – 1:27)
God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.

Chorus
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.
In Bethlehem, in Israel, this blessed Babe was born,
And laid within a manger upon this blessed morn;
The which His mother Mary did nothing take in scorn.

Chorus
From God our heavenly Father a blessed angel came;
And unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same;
How that in Bethlehem was born the Son of God by name.

Chorus
“Fear not, then,” said the angel, “Let nothing you a-fright
This day is born a Savior of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might.”

Chorus
The shepherds at those tidings rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding in tempest, storm and wind,
And went to Bethl’em straightaway this blessed Babe to find.

Chorus
But when to Bethlehem they came where our dear Savior lay,
They found Him in a manger where oxen feed on hay;
His mother Mary kneeling unto the Lord did pray.

Chorus
Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas all others doth deface.

Chorus
God bless the ruler of this house, and send him long to reign,
And many a merry Christmas may live to see again;
Among your friends and kindred that live both far and near—
That God send you a happy new year, happy new year,
And God send you a happy new year.

___________________

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