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HYMN 254 O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Danish: Hvorledes skal jeg møde

German: Wie soll ich dich empfangen

Norwegian: Hvorledes skal jeg møte

Matthew 21:1-9

Text: Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676). Tune: Johann Crüger (1592-1662)

Christ entering Jerusalem and the crowds welcome him by Pietro Lorenzetti in the Lower Basilica in Assisi

1. O Lord, how shall I meet thee,

How welcome Thee aright?

All nations along to greet Thee,

My hope, my heart’s delight!

O kindle, dearest Jesus,

Thy lamp within my breast,

That I may know what pleases

Thee, Lord, my heavenly Guest.

2. Thy Zion strews before Thee

Green boughs and fairest palms,

And I, too, will adore Thee

With sweetest songs and psalms.

My heart shall bloom forever

For Thee with praises new,

And from Thy name shall never

Without the honor due.

3. What hast thou left ungranted

To give me glad relief?

When soul and body panted

In utmost depth of grief,

In deepest degradation,

Devoid of joy and peace,

Then, thou my soul’s salvation

Didst come to bring relief.

4. I lay in fetters groaning,

Thou camst to set me free;

I stood, my shame bemoaning,

Thou camst to honor me;

A glory thou dost give me,

A treasure safe on high,

Thou wilt not fail or leave me

As earthly riches flyl

5. Naught, naught, dear Lord, could move Thee

To leave Thy rightful place

Save love, for which I love Thee;

A love that could embrace

A world where sorrow dwelleth,

Which sin and suffering fill,

More than the tongue e’er telleth;--

Yet thou couldst love it still.

6. Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted,

Who sit in deepest gloom,

Who mourn o’er joys departed,

And tremble at your doom:

Despair not, he is near you,

Yes, standing at the door,

Who best can help and cheer you,

And bid you weep no more.

7. No care nor effort either

Is needed day or night,

How ye may draw Him hither

In your own strength and might.

He comes, He comes with gladness,

Moved by His love alone,

To calm your fear and sadness,

Which unto Him are known.

8. Sin’s debt, that fearful burden,

Let not your souls distress;

Your guilt the Lord will pardon

And cover with His grace.

He comes, he comes procuring

The peace of sin forgiv’n

To all God’s sons securing

Their part and lot in heav’n.

9. Why should the wicked move you?

Heed not their craft and spite!

Your Savior who doth love you,

Will scatter all their might.

He comes, a King most glorious,

And all His earthly foes

In vain His course victorious Endeavor to oppose.

10. He comes to judge the nations,

A terror to His foes,

A light of consolations

And blessed hope to those

Who love the Lord’s appearing.

O glorious Sun, now come,

Send forth Thy beams so cheering,

And guide us safely home!

Tr. Composite

MEDITATION Happy New Year! The First Sunday of Advent once more! Gerhardt’s Advent hymn is a primary one for Lutherans. In it one can see, also, how the changing of the lectionary texts has put the traditional Advent hymns somewhat at odds with the texts. The new ones tend to be more apocalyptic, more like the end of the church year and Judgment Sunday used to be.They stress our preparing for his coming, rather than rejoicing in it. The traditional Lutheran lesson for the first Sunday of Advent is Jesus riding into Jerusalem to a joyful welcome on Palm Sunday. That theme and those images are in many of the old Advent hymns.

Young Luther by Lucas Cranach

For Luther, Advent was a joyful time to celebrate the past, present and future of Christ's coming among us--when he was born, when he comes to us, and when he will come again. Making it penitential is a return to pre-Reformation themes that Luther opposed. Advent should be a time of joy and thanksgiving for what God in Christ has done for us.

This hymn is ten stanzas long. I have included them here in an old translation, with old fashioned language, but there are no new ones with all the stanzas that I could find. (Gerhardt’s text are rich, but often so long they don't get used.) It addresses both the heart of the waiting Christian and how we should receive him and then Jesus, whose coming we await with joy.

Gerhardt uses images from Matthew 25 of the foolish and wise virgins with the lamps being lighted, and the encouragement to the sad-hearted who sit in deepest gloom. And Revelation 3:20 where Jesus is standing at the door knocking.

Now we are expecting the Christ child remembering how he came to us in Bethlehem. That joy is complete. What a blessing for me to have children around, especially a two year old who is seeing these wonders for the first time! As we see this joy, we might reflect on how Jesus came to us in our own lives, whether through baptism or some awakening later. And we should examine our hearts as we grow in expectation for his final coming.

Wherever you are on that spectrum, I trust this hymn and many others we will consider through Advent into Christmas will fill you with the joy with which you first celebrated Christmas as a young child—waiting and waiting with a consuming anticipation the joyful moment when you opened the gifts. Christ’s coming is like that. How wonderful to recall and look forward to. "Despair not, he is near you!"

Paul Gerhardt in stained glass window in Lübben church

HYMN INFO The text was likely written in 1653 while Gerhardt was working with Johann Crüger, the musician at Nicolai church in Berlin. Gerhardt lived through the entire Thirty Years War when times were extremely difficult. At the time of this hymn, five years after the Peace of Westphalia, he was serving the congregation in Mittenwald, not far from Berlin where in 1651 he had been appointed head pastor. Gerhardt was not yet married; he would marry Anna Maria, the daughter in the home where he was tutor, in 1655. They were happily married, but five of their six children died in infancy and Anna died in 1668 after a long illness. Only one child survived his father.

Crüger included this hymn in his 1653 version of Praxis Pietatis Melica. Later others would use the tune "Valet will ich dir geben." Bach used the first stanza of this text for his Christmas Oratorio, but used another tune for it. There are a lot of performances on YouTube of each tune. Here are some. (For much of my reflection I am indebted to Luther Seminary Professor Emerita Mary Jane Haemig whose article on Luther's thinking about Advent was in The Lutheran Forum Summer 2012.)

LINKS The Augustana Choirs/Sioux Falls Wind Symphony Concordia River Forest Illinois

Danish with Ingolf Olsen singing

Organ version by Paul Manz

German jazz version

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio opens with the first stanza of the hymn, a different melody

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