16 December 2012
Introit hymn 56
O come, O come, Emmanuel [stanzas 5–6]
see I. Sunday of Advent
Canticle The First Song of Isaiah
Sing the praises of the Lord.
Sequence hymn 59
‘Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding’
[Vox clara ecce intonat]
tr. Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861
Wm. Henry Monk
¶ Historically appointed for Lauds in Advent
‘Rejoice in the Lord always’
‘On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry’
[Jordanis oras praevia]
tr. Chas. Winfred Douglas
Communion hymns 679, 640
‘Surely, it is God who saves me’
The First Song of Isaiah [Isaiah 12.2–6]
para. Carl P. Daw, Jr.
Ray W. Urwin
‘Watchman, tell us of the night’
Postcommunion hymn 74
‘Blest be the King whose coming’
[Bendito el Rey que viene]
Federico F. Pagura
tr. F. Pratt Green
‘Valet will ich dir geben’
mel. Melchior Teschner
Sunday’s Gospel, again about John the Baptizer, sounds an even stronger call to repentance (‘you brood of vipers!’). Our culture seems to be steeled against repentance, however. When errors are made, we look for scapegoats. When sins are committed, we ask whether others wouldn’t have done the same. When serious crimes are perpetrated, at least some will ask whether experiences in childhood or mental deviations could be used to justify the crime. Perhaps we need a poet who can speak for himself, and maybe in elevated words, for us as well. Perhaps another can say it, if we can’t admit it ourselves. Let’s listen to the sinners who confess for us, before John and others, and see if we too can place their words on our lips. God is listening.
The Introit hymn, ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’, from which we sing stanzas 5 and 6 this week, asks the coming Lord, the Key of David, the Dayspring from on high, to disperse the darkness of our own making, the shadows in which we hide from the righteousness that overwhelms us.
The Sequence hymn, ‘Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding’, is another Latin hymn, just to prove that the ancients considered it sensible to repent long before we considered it. ‘Cast away the works of darkness’, it summons us, ‘from earth’s bondage let us rise’. ‘Let us hasten with tears of sorrow, one and all to be forgiven’. These words of an ancient poet knew what we know in our heart of hearts. Behind the trappings of the Christmas Muzak in our department stores, there are burdens that need to be lifted, burdens heavier than the biggest Christmas package you could imagine.
The contemporary poet Carl Daw paraphrases today’s Old Testament Canticle in the first Communion hymn, ‘Surely it is God who saves us’. Just as did Isaiah before, Daw encourages us to seek the future, to claim the promise, to forget all fear, because among us, even in our sin, dwells the holy one of Israel. (Isaiah 12)
In the Postcommunion hymn, ‘Blest be the King whose coming’, we who have begun to muster some words of repentance at our poets’ encouragment, now sing more boldly, ‘He offers to the burdened the rest and grace they need’. The poet who writes this text, Federico Pagura, is a Methodist bishop emeritus in Argentina and a famous civil rights activist. Additionally, interested in hymn texts, he translated 77 hymns into Spanish, and wrote five of his own, of which this is one. One can note in Pagura’s words his compassion for the marginalized as we writes that the King comes ‘not robed in royal splendor…, but clad as are the poorest, such his humility’.
Our words on this day seek expression not only in anguish that we secretly feel over our failures, but in the disappointment we know for allowing the disenfranchized to struggle for hope without us. The Advent season, long before we sing, ‘O come let us adore him’, invites us to make such matters right.