LET THE WORD OF CHRIST BE YOUR PRAISE.
In the name + of Jesus.
A brief survey of the Bible shows you that God's people have always rejoiced with songs of praise. Even the angels sang for joy at God's creation.
Unfortunately, from the moment sin entered the world, man has wanted his worship to be about him. To this day, even songs in Christian churches sing about my worship, my hope, and my praise, about how I love Jesus, how I exalt Jesus, how I devote myself to Jesus, and so on. In other words, the songs are about me, my opinions, and my feelings. Hymns that highlight what I do or how I feel will likely not speak for every Christian, and therefore, they are flawed.
When St. Paul wrote to encourage the Colossians their worship, he urged, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) In other words, let the word of Christ be your praise.
If you read through the Psalms, you will notice that the way Israel praised God was by singing to God what he had done for them. They sang of how God saved them, how God protected them, how God guided them, and how God had mercy upon them. This rightly praises God, as it confesses what God has done to be worthy of praise. It also confesses to all who hear what we believe and why we are devoted to the Lord. And when our hymns proclaim God's salvation and God's promises, then those hymns will always be true for every Christian in every age. Let the word of Christ be your praise.
When the focus of our hymns is on Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection, then we are proclaiming God's salvation for mankind. When we sing of God's work through word and sacrament, we are proclaiming how God delivers his forgiveness and mercy to us. When we faithfully sing and learn these hymns, we strengthen our faith; for we remember our theology from these hymns, we draw comfort from them, we warn against sin and false doctrine though them, and we declare the wonders of God to unbelievers through them. Let the word of Christ be your praise—for this is what saves, and it is therefore the only thing that is worthy of our praise.
Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel (CW 23)
Of the hymns that were submitted and chosen as one of our favorites, the Christian Church has been singing this one for the longest time. Its roots go back to the 6th or 7th century. In Christian worship back then, verses from Scripture were either read or chanted at certain points of the service. They were known as antiphons. During the season of Advent, a series of antiphons developed known, as “O Antiphons,” based on the first word of each line being “O.”
Later, in about the 12th century, these O Antiphons were arranged into a hymn setting with the opening line being, “Veni, veni, Emmanuel,” which is “Come, Come, Emmanuel.” In the 13th century, the refrain, “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel,” was added.
Each verse—there were originally seven—introduces a Messianic title to the Church which awaits her Christ.
O Wisdom from on high
O Adonai (that is, Lord) and leader of the house of Israel
O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people
O Key of David and scepter of our home
O Dayspring, splendor of eternal glory
O longed-for King of the nations
O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver
SING: O, Come, O, Come, Emmanuel (CW 23)
Away in a Manger (CW 68)
Although this hymn has been called, “Luther's Cradle Song,” it was not Martin Luther's. Historical research finds older versions of this hymn in English than in German. The oldest versions found only go back to the late 1800's.
We often speak about the traditional melody of the tune. Traditions are often personal things. In this case, our tradition might only be linked to a melody we recall from Christmas Eve services from our youth. One scholar has uncovered 41 settings of this hymn, though clearly some melodies are more popular than others.
This hymn is likely most endearing because it recalls not only Jesus' birth, but also our own earliest memories of celebrating Jesus' birth. Poetic license credits Jesus as a baby which did not cry. But being true man, Jesus would have been hungry and soiled himself, indicating both of these needs to his parents by crying.
The hymn also calls on Jesus to stay with us, to watch over us as we sleep, to bless all who are children of God, and finally to take us to heaven where he has ascended. It is for these reasons that it is rightly called a cradle song.
SING: Away in a Manger (CW 68)
The Lord's My Shepherd, I'll Not Want (CW 360)
In the Church for many ages, melodies and songs were very simple. Melodies were often only unison chant lines. As time went by, tunes became more elaborate. Lyrics also changed. Instead of limiting themselves to direct quotations from Scripture, hymn-writers began to paraphrase the Scriptures, particularly the Psalms, into metered hymns which rhymed. Not surprisingly, Psalm 23 was paraphrased often. Between Christian Worship and the Supplement, we have four distinct paraphrased hymns based on Psalm 23.
The first draft of this particular version of Psalm 23 was written by William Whittingham about 1556. This version was first published in 1650, and has been enjoyed by English speaking Christians for over 3 ½ centuries.
SING: The Lord's My Shepherd (CW 360)
I'm But a Stranger Here (CW 417)
This hymn was written by Thomas R. Taylor in about 1835. Taylor was dying of tuberculosis at the age of 27 when he was focused no longer on this world but on our citizenship which is in heaven.
In a few short lines, Taylor confesses both the corruption of this world, to which he would soon bid farewell, and the glories which we shall enjoy at our Father's side in heaven. For that reason, even though he would die at a young age, he would murmur not. Whatever his earthly lot, Taylor would accept it because he knew that his eternal lot would be glorious, comforting, joyful, and heavenly. He would be reunited with the faithful who had gone before him and rejoice in eternal rest.
Incidentally, the melody which we has been wed to this hymn was written in 1872 by Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.
SING: I'm But a Stranger Here (CW 417)
Abide With Me (CW 588)
This hymn was written by Rev. Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 in what would be the final year of his life. Tradition says that Lyte walked out to the cliffs behind his home one evening, watched the sunset, and was reminded of Luke 24:49 where the Emmaus disciples summoned Jesus, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening.”
Though the hymn is in the section of the hymnal entitled “Evening,” you probably have heard it at funerals more than anywhere. The lyrics make us mindful that all earthly helpers will fail us, especially in our final hours. This hymn prays for God to come to us, not in terror, but in mercy. It remembers God's promises of the resurrection so that our woes and griefs are not so weighty. The hymn even taunts, “Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?” It longs for heaven's glory to greet us, where the Lord will have us abide with him forever.
SING: Abide With Me (CW 588:1,2,6,7)
For Me to Live Is Jesus (CW 606)
This hymn was written by Melchior Vulpius who had served several German congregations as a cantor. Its first publication is found in 1609.
Perhaps the most noteworthy phrase in Vulpius' hymn is that he prays that he will be spared from any doubts in his final hour. Though Satan will attack and vex us, and he will not even need to make things up to do that, we have a refuge even in the most vile attack. Jesus Christ remains our refuge. It is his merits that cover all our sins. Jesus' death has paid for all our guilt, and his resurrection guarantees our own resurrection to life everlasting. While we gladly serve our Lord while we remain on earth, we gain much more when our Lord is pleased to call us heavenward.
SING: For Me to Live Is Jesus (CW 660)
We began these hymns with the longing for our Savior in heaven to come to us, and we have concluded with our longing to go to be with our Savior in heaven. The hymns that proclaim Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection and which repeat God's promises will always serve the Church best. They honor God the most. Such hymns declare God's mercy and salvation, and they build up the faith of the faithful. They repeat our hope, and they highlight the certainty of the promises in which we hope.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.