Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Hymn for Advent IV
Text: Gracia Grindal (1943-) Tune: James. E. Clemens
1. Gabriel hailed and called her favored
By the Lord above.
She would bear a Son, our Savior,
One with God.
2. Mary knew the Law and Prophets
When the angel came,
Telling of her child of promise
And his name.
3. He would dwell on earth among us
God in human flesh
God’s own self, a child of wonder,
In a crèche.
4. All the cosmos sang her praises
When she answered yes,
Saints and angels marked her graces
Called her blest.
5. We sing, “Blessed are you, Mary,
Mother of our Lord.
You in faith agreed to carry
God’s own Word.”
MEDITATION We have not only an amazing, wondrous story to tell of our salvation, but a beautiful one. None more beautiful than the story of Mary, especially the Annunciation. Artists have loved portraying it and some of the most beautiful paintings in the world show this scene. Some of the greatest music ever written are settings of Mary's words. Bach’s Magnificat sets Mary’s song during her meeting with Elizabeth.
Every Advent my mother would memorize Mary’s Song and repeat it to us during our devotions,"My Soul doth Magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." The rich language of the King James Version of the Bible sang in our ears. Unforgettable!
Melded with that in my memory is the great painting of the Annunciation by Botticelli. It hangs in the Uffizi palace in Florence. Four years ago I was there on a tour of Dante sites led by my Luther College friends, Ruth Caldwell and Uwe Rudolph. When we got to the Uffizi, because I had cracked my pelvis and was in considerable pain, I chose to go to the room where the Botticelli painting was and just stand there while the others walked the miles and miles one has to travel during a tour of that massive museum.
Its beauties are staggering. Not only that, it preaches beautifully. All of the traditions in the story are here—Mary is wearing a cape of blue, for purity, over her red dress—for passion. She is reading a book. Tradition says it is the OT where the prophecies of her bearing a son are written. The angel Gabriel is carrying a lily, a symbol of purity. It and his wings are still moving, to show his haste and living presence. The laurel tree standing over them is a symbol of life and heaven—something like the tree in Eden the fruit of which Eve was told not to eat. Behind them on either side of the river the heavenly city and the earthly city. We see a bridge needing to be finished between them. What Mary is assenting to will finish that bridge. The ship is also a bearer of good news coming to us. If you follow the lines between their hands it leads directly to the church spire where this good news will be presented. One can go on and on.
This story fascinates and draws one in. This image was on my mind when I wrote the above hymn and also in the sonnet below for my book of 366 sonnets on Jesus: The Harmony which is coming out in April (you can already pre-order on Amazon) I treated the painting thusly.
Botticelli shows us its magnitude,
The Annunciation: the book of prophecy,
The Angel Gabriel kneeling, Mary in blue
And red, standing—eyes closed, what does she see
Under her heart? Between their outstretched hands,
Electric with hope, we can draw a line
Into the background where two cities stand,
A river between them, the human and divine,
A ship looking for harbor, an unfinished bridge
Over the water, an artery for God.
We wait this moment to span it ridge to ridge.
Breathless, we watch, not quite sure she will nod
Her head, while we are pointed toward the light,
To the church, past the grave, the laurel, the angel’s flight.
The Visitation where Mary meets with Elizabeth and sings her Magnificat is also beautifully done by the great artists. Standing in awe looking at Botticelli, I could see to my right Mariotto Albertinelli's Visitation. The young woman carrying in her womb the fulfillment of the prophecies and John, in Elizabeth's womb, the last of the prophets, kicking out with joy!
Luther loved the story of Mary and wrote about her many times, praising her for her faith. We do not venerate her because she is like God, but because she said yes to bearing God’s Word. As we are asked to. The purest expression of faith from a young woman that made our faith possible. For every good reason, we bless her because her yes gave us blessings without number.
When I was working on the many hymns in the Revised Common Lectionary, given there were over 700 texts to set, exclusive of the Psalms, I tried to use meters that were less common in order to challenge myself and the composers. This is a strange English form, but not unknown.
James Clemens composed this tune for my text on the annunciation. Although my source was I Timothy, the hymn tells the story of the annunciation. Jim's tune captures the mystery with which the event is covered. Jim grew up in Goshen, Indiana, and belonged to the Mennonite church there. He has been surrounded by music his entire life. He plays many instruments, and his compositions range widely—from a Te Deum to a musical version of Twelfth Night. I am proud that he could set my book of hymns on the Gospels in the C series and also my hymns on the Festivals and Martyrs. This hymn comes from that book.
I also include for your musical pleasure, a fine version of Bach’s Magnificat. It was the first choral work Bach composed after arriving in Leipzig in 1723. He would spend the next 27 years there until his death, composing cantatas, passions, and thousands of other works to increase our faith and knowledge of the biblical accounts of salvation. Also some Christmas music by James Clemens. Enjoy!
Bach’s Magnificat/ https://youtu.be/EsUWG2axB3w
Puer Nobis arranged for flute and piano by James E. Clemens
Freu dich sehr arranged for violin and piano by James E. Clemens
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