HYMN 256 Prepare the Way, O Zion!
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Norwegian: Rydd Vei for Herrens komme
Swedish: Bereden väg for Herran
Isaiah 40: 3; Matthew 21:1-9;
Text: Franz Mikael Franzén (1772-1847) Tune: Swedish version of a German folk tune in the 1694 Swedish hymnal
1. Prepare the way, O Zion!
Ye awful deeps, rise high! Sink low, ye tow’ring mountains,
The Lord is drawing nigh;
The righteous King of glory,
Foretold in sacred story.
R/O blest is he that came
In God the Father’s Name!
2. O Zion, He approacheth,
Thy Lord and King for aye!
Strew palms where he advanceth,
Spread garments in his way.
God’s promise faileth never,
Hosanna sound forever!
3. Fling wide thy portals, Zion,
And hail thy glorious King;
His tidings of salvation
To every people bring,
Who, waiting yet in sadness,
Would sing His praise in gladness.
4. He cometh not with warriors,
And not with pomp and show,
Yet smiteth He with terror
Sin, death, and every foe.
The Spirit’s sword he wieldeth,
Not e’en to death He yieldeth.
5. Give heed, thou sinful people,
Thy King and Savior own:
The kingdom He hath founded
Is not an earthly one;
No pow’r can overthrow it,
Nor earthly wisdom know it.
6. The throne which He ascendeth
Is fixed in heaven above:
His sanctified dominion
Is light alone and love.
His praise be ever sounding
For grace and peace abounding.
7. Jerusalem is fallen,
And closed its temple-door;
Its sacrifices ended;
Its scepter is no more.
Christ’s kingdom never ceaseth,
Its glory still increaseth.
Tr. Augustus Nelson
This is the first hymn in The Hymnal of (Swedish) Augustana Lutheran Church in 1925. It would be hard to get through the first Sunday of Advent in Sweden without this hymn. Like many other Lutheran Advent hymns it uses the Matthew 21 lesson of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The joyful anticipation of the coming of the Lord into our lives is central to the entire hymn.
We hear the cry of the prophet in Isaiah 40:3, "Prepare the way!" It is a thrilling beginning to the Advent season. It describes and anticipates the kingdom Jesus comes to build in contrast with the earthly kingdoms; in Jesus' kingdom the only sword is the sword of the Spirit meant to do away with sin, death and the power of the devil to establish his kingdom among us.
Franzén came from the Swedish part of what is now Finland, Uleåborg, now Oulu. He was a gifted student who distinguished himself as a young man of letters. He was a fine poet and became a student of Finnish history and letters. He studied at the Royal Academy in Turku under one of the founders of Finnish studies in folklore and history; he became the librarian there in 1796. His poetry breathed the new romanticism and nationalism of the time in Europe. He was elected a member of the Swedish Academy in 1808 and of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1815. When Russia won Finland from Sweden in 1809, Franzén moved to Kumla, Sweden. He was ordained in 1803 and in time he became a pastor serving in the diocese of Strängnäs, then as minister of the Klara Church in Stockholm and finally as Bishop of Härnösand in 1831. The scourge of the north was alcoholism and Franzén worked hard as bishop to fight its deleterious effects in the region.
He worked closely with Johann Olof Wallin (1779-1839) who compiled the 1819 hymnal for Sweden. He continued writing longer poems considered minor today but which advanced the nationalism of the Swede-Finn culture. Although his reputation as a poet has faded, this hymn remains high on the list of important Swedish hymn. Its use of Scripture to mark the thrilling advance of our Lord into Jerusalem and into our hearts is a wonderful way to begin Advent. Rejoice in the coming of our Savior. Prepare the way!
This hymn appeared first in a collection of trial hymns, Prof-Psalmer, put out by Wallin in 1812. From then on it was included in every Swedish hymnal and became among the most beloved of the Advent hymns in Sweden and Swedish America. I included the translation by Nelson in its entirety so you can see it all, but most hymnals today use only three to five stanzas. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, (1807-1882) America’s poet of the middle 19th century, traveled to Europe, studying the languages and literature of the various regions. While in the north he picked up several of Franzen’s poems and translated them to include in his book Poets and Poetry of Europe.
The tune was probably a dance tune out of Germany. It is fun to see how John Ylvisaker’s saying that tunes are universal, harmonies chronological and rhythms geographical works with this hymn. In the 1925 Augustana hymnal the music is basically all quarter notes. By the time of the LBW in 1978, the music is in the form of a rhythmic chorale, like those Luther wrote. In this case, however, the tune was reharmonized and rhythmically altered so it is now a jazzy hymn, part of the reason it has endured, I think. You can hear for yourselves.
Congregation and choir in Vaxjö
Uppsala Children’s choir sings an arrangement by Anders Nyberg of the hymn, very popular https://youtu.be/S1u98kvT1bI
Sofia Vokalensamble Bengt Ollén https://youtu.be/UmcjsJVBy_U
Adolf Fredrik Bachkör
Lund Student Choir https://youtu.be/7JXbu-8gBLc
Improvised Organ introduction
Hordabø kirke organ postlude on the tune