Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Mark 1: 1-8; Isaiah 40:3-5;
Text: Charles Coffin (1676-1749) Tune: George Wittwe (nd) or Michael Praetorius (1571-1621)
1. On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry Announces that the Lord is nigh. Awake and harken, for he brings Glad tidings of the King of kings!
2 .Then cleansed be every life from sin: Make straight the way for God within, And let us all our hearts prepare For Christ to come and enter there.
3. We hail you as our Savior, Lord, Our refuge and our great reward. Without your grace we waste away Like flowers that wither and decay.
4. Stretch forth your hand, our health restore, And make us rise to fall no more. O let your face upon us shine And fill the world with love divine.
5. All praise to you, eternal Son, Whose advent has our freedom won, Whom with the Father we adore, And Holy Spirit, evermore. Tr. John Chandler (1806-1876)
MEDITATION This Sunday (or the next) is known as John the Baptist Sunday in which the Advent texts feature the announcement of John the Baptist as we have it in Mark 1. The Gospel of Mark has no story about the birth of Jesus, but this announcement of John the Baptist that the Lord is nigh tells us who he is. We are driven back to Isaiah 40 where we hear the prophecy John is preaching. One also thinks these days of Handel’s Messiah and how it begins. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.”
This is the weekend that most of us would have made the pilgrimage to one place or another to hear a fabulous concert with casts of hundreds singing many of the hymns we love at this time of the year. Colleges have tried to give us something of that with virtual concerts, which have given us a taste of what we are missing.
Many of us, too, along with the college concerts, might have attended or sung in a performance of Handel’s Messiah. Their performances could range from small chamber groups to massed choirs—Luther College used to put on an annual performance every year, led by Weston Nobel, with hosts of students, faculty and friends. The entire west end of bleachers in the gym would be filled with the choir. And the audience would be packed in. People would wait for the sound of that first solo, with John’s sermon to the people. It was an exciting beginning to the season.
It gave you a feeling for the sound of John crying out in the wilderness. Even though he would not have passed the dress code for the concert choir, we do hear that urgent sound in the tenor. As did the people in the region who flocked to hear John.
Waiting for the Messiah, for an ending, or resolution—the people wondered if at last here was the Messiah. But John, who might have fooled them with his Nazarite appearance, called out to tell them of another one who was coming, much greater than he.
In paintings, John is frequently pointing his bony finger at Jesus crying “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In the altarpiece above, he is standing by the cross pointing, with the lamb beside him, at the Lamb of God. It is an anachronistic picture--he would have been dead by then--but it shows him doing what he did.
Martin Luther said that is what every preacher should be doing—pointing to the Lamb of God and saying what his mission is. Preachers may grow weary of that, but it is their calling—to point to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When they stray from doing so, as an old acquaintance of mine said, they might as well talk about bird houses. We need to hear this announcement often. Jesus is the Lamb of God come to take away our sin and restore our fellowship with God most high. And so we sing, "Stretch forth your hand, our health restore." Amen!
HYMN INFO The hymn Jordanis oras prævia, was written by Charles Coffin. Born in Ardenne, he was principal of the college at Beauvais and then rector at the University of Paris. Associated with the Jansenist movement, which had what church officials thought of as Calvinist leanings, he was considered a heretic and the Archbishop instructed his priest to refuse him last rites and even a Christian burial! This hymn first appeared in his book, the Paris Breviary, published in 1736 which contained some 100 hymns in Latin. Later he would publish an entire collection of his works in 1755. John Henry Newman, the leader of the Oxford movement, printed them at Oxford in 1838.
Chandler is one of the great translators of the Victorian Age. Educated at Oxford, he became a priest in 1832. Like many of his contemporaries in the Oxford Movement he was always looking for hymns from the early church to translate into English to enrich the English tradition. His first collection, The Hymns of the Primitive Church, now first Collected, translated and Arranged, 1839, included this one, which, along with several others, are now among the staples of English hymnody.
The preferred tune is Winchester New which has a German background. By Georg Wittwe, it first appeared in Musikalisches Handbuch der geistlichen Melodien, one of the great collections of tunes, in 1690. Puer nobis is by Michael Praetorius, one of the first great Lutheran musicians. It is the tune used in the LBW.
LINKS Roger Wilcock and the London Fox Singers https://youtu.be/UIRaIYzLf8E
OCP Session Choir https://youtu.be/OVHkMWwnGWk
Joseph Polzin/The text along with a more contemporary setting of Winchester New https://youtu.be/thB4VxE51RQ
Puer Nobis/Jeff Windoloski on the organ https://youtu.be/hHWo3kIjPnE
Santa Lucia is celebrated on December 13, next Sunday, in the Nordic countries and here. We are missing very much that festival this year. You can get the feeling for the celebration on the links below. Here is a favorite from the program sung by Swedish choirs: Steffan var en stalledräng.
English translation, silly, but...
Cartoon showing the story