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Music Notes from Denise, December 23, 2023

This Sunday has multiple purposes. First, we will conclude our season of Advent in the morning with lighting the 4 Advent candle and singing Mary’s Magnificat. Then later in the evening we will have 2 Christmas Eve services. The first at 5:00 pm will be a family Christmas service involving the children acting out the Christmas story and ringing bells. Then at 7:45 pm beautiful Christmas music will begin as you enter the sanctuary for the 8:00 pm Christmas Eve service with choirs and traditional music.


This Sunday morning our Processional hymn will be Come, thou long expected Jesus and we will sing it to an alternate tune from the one in the blue hymnal, the joyous and hopeful tune Hyfrydol. Charles Wesley was the great hymn-writer of the Wesley family. He was the youngest son of Samuel and Susanna Wesley and was born at Epworth Rectory in 1707. Wesley wrote this Advent hymn and printed it in his (1744). Like so many of Wesley's texts, "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" alludes to one or more Scripture passages in virtually every phrase. The double nature of Advent is reflected in this text, in which we remember Christ's first coming even while praying for his return. Stanza 1 recalls Advent prophecies in the Old Testament and stanza 2 speaks of Christ's birth and kingdom, and is a prayer for Christ's rule in our hearts. There are a few points to note about Wesley’s text. First, he used a number of “false rhymes” when he got himself in a corner lyrically: “Jesus-release us,” “deliver-forever,” and “Spirit-merit.” Wesley was quite clever in these – one generally doesn’t notice them unless they’re pointed out. Second, Wesley uses a lot of repetition to make some key themes more obvious. For example, in the second stanza, he repeats the word “born” at the beginning of three consecutive lines to really drive home the idea of the incarnation. (


Two of our hymns come from the Voices Found hymnal supplement. My soul gives glory to my God is a metrical paraphrase of the Magnificat from Luke 1:46-55. It was written by Miriam Therese Winter who is professor of liturgy, worship, spirituality, and feminist studies at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. A member of the Medical Mission Sisters, holding degrees in Gregorian chant, organ, and liturgy, she began writing liturgical folk music during Vatican II. We will sing it to the familiar tune, Morning Song. The Communion hymn, Mary, when the angel’s voice, is sung to the tune from an anonymous folk song associated with Good King Wenceslas by John Mason Neale. The text was written by Carol Goodwin King in 1997. King is a poet by avocation and an elevator designer by profession. Author of 26 hymns, her work reflects her love of the traditional hymns she has sung since childhood and her welcome embrace of expansive language. (Marilyn Haskel & Lisa Neufeld Thomas, Voices Found hymnal leader’s guide 2004 by Church Publishing Inc.)


Our Sequence hymn will be The angel Gabriel from heaven came. It is a loose translation of a Basque carol by Sabine Baring-Gould (d.1924) who was schoolmaster, then curate (when he wrote ‘Onward, Christian soldiers’), and rector, variously in Yorkshire and Essex. A prolific writer, he produced some 50 volumes of fiction and nearly 100 on subjects ranging from religion to travel and topography. He was also a pioneer in collecting folk songs. The traditional Basque melody, now called ‘Gabriel’s message’, is arranged by Charles Pettman (1866-1943), an English organist and composer with a special interest in French and Spanish carol melodies. (


Our final hymn brings us into the Christmas season, It came upon a midnight clear. Edmund H. Sears, a Unitarian minister at Wayland, Massachusetts, wrote this hymn in 1849. It was published that year a few days after Christmas in the Boston Christian Register. While obviously a Christmas hymn due to its theme of the angels' song, there is no mention at all of Christ or His birth about which the angels sang; it is a social gospel hymn. Perhaps this is due to the theological leanings of its author, even though Sears believed in the divinity of Christ, contrary to most Unitarians. Written only a dozen years before the outbreak of the American Civil War, the peaceable leanings of the Unitarian school of thought are evident in the text. One theme of this hymn is the contrast between the message “peace on earth, good will toward men” proclaimed by the host of angels at Christ's birth (Luke 2:14) and the war and oppression that dominate the earth. As this hymn is sung, think about the coming time when God will make all things new and bring God’s peace. (

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