HYMN 285 Greet Now the Swiftly Changing Year/A Year Again is now Descending
Text: Slovak Tune: Závorka, Kancional, 1602
1. Greet now the swiftly changing year With joy and penitence sincere. R/Rejoice! Rejoice! With thanks embrace Another year of grace.
2. Remember now the Son of God
And how he shed his infant blood.
3. For Jesus came to wage sin's war; This Name of Names for us he bore; R/ 4. His love abundant far exceeds The volume of a whole year's needs; R/ 5. With such a Lord to lead our way In hazard and prosperity, R/What need we fear in earth or space In this new year of grace! 6. "All glory be to God on high And peace on earth," the angels cry; R/Rejoice! Rejoice! With thanks embrace
Another year of grace.
7. God, Father, Son and Spirit, hear
To all our plans incline your ear
R/Upon our lives rich blessing trace
In this new year of grace.
Tr. Jaroslav Vajda (1919-2008)
A Year Again is now descending
Ein Jahr geht nach dem andern hin
Text: Johann Jacob Rambach (1693-1735) Tune: Georg Neumark (1621-1681)
1. A year again is now descending
Into the bosom of the past;
O may our souls not cease attending
To things that bring us peace at last!
O may each year that hurries by
Bear blessed fruit beyond the sky!
2. Our time is gone, our year departed;
But where is found the fruit we bore?
God oft has sought, and yet, sad-hearted,
Complain’d he found no fruit to store.
From row to row he goes and grieves,
For finding naught but withered leaves.
3. His wrath is kindled, hear him saying:
“Hew down at once the fruitless tree!
No mercy’s warmth shall cause delaying;
Come death, and let it cease to be!
The ax to ev’ry root apply,
And hew it down and cast it by!”
4. But hear the Gard’ner for us praying? “O let this tree yet stand a year!
I’ll dig around it, overlaying
The roots, so fruit may yet appear.
O let it stand but one year more;
If still in vain, then hew it o’er!”
5. O Jesus, Lord, wilt thou us strengthen,
To bear good fruit for God this year!
Wilt thou the living powers lengthen
In leaf and branch that now are sere!
O send thy Spirit, mercy give,
That plant and fruit thy life may live.
Tr. Peter Sveeggen
I remember New Year’s Eve services in the country churches in North Dakota, where my dad served for eight years. We would drive out on Highway 2 on the prairie in the frigid weather, the stars lighting our way. Sometimes the moon would be so bright shining on the snow that one did not need lights on the car to see. It was magical. From Rugby to Berwick, about 8 miles west, there was not one curve. You could drive straight and see the lights of the cars coming for miles. The only dangers were too much celebrating by the drivers. I remember awful collisions with fatalities that affected us all.
The service would end with our singing this second hymn from The Concordia, "A Year Again is now descending." Or maybe "O God our Help in Ages Past." Then prayer timed so that the bell ringing in the New Year would begin just as it ended. The bell shook the small church building, the people bowing their heads, a whiff of coal dust from the pot bellied stove in the back corner, the fragrance of wool coats and egg coffee wafting around us. And then we would walk across the frozen snow to the car which had been warming up for a bit for our trip back to town.
It was a time of sober reflection and still is. As the first hymn says, we should greet the new year with joy and repentance. The second hymn uses Luke 13:6-9 as its source. The unfruitful tree. Death came quickly on the farm and on these roads. And still today. One never knows the day nor hour. Are we ready? Have we been fruitful? Summing up the past year and preparing for the New Year, Jesus' Name Day, is serious business. This year let us revel in Christ's presence. "What need we fear in earth or space/In this new year of grace."
One might wish as we see people counting down the seconds as this difficult year ends, that along with being glad for its end and hopeful for the future, we all might pray with the hymn writer, "O send thy Spirit, mercy give,/That plant and fruit thy life may live." That is really all that matters.
The Slovak tradition of Lutheran hymnody is vigorous but not well known in this country. The founder of the tradition was Jiři Tranovský (15891-1637). This hymn came from the Kancional of 1602 although it is not by him, but in that tradition. Its translator, Jaroslav Vajda, a pastor in the Slovak Synod grew up as a pastor’s kid in the Slovak Synod knowing both Slovak and English. He began writing poetry as a teenager, and translating some of the great poetry of the Slovak tradition. He served on the LBW committee with me and I came to treasure his wry sense of humor. While working on the committee, he became an editor at Concordia Publishing House where he worked for many years, all the time writing hymns such as "Now the Silence," and "The Marvel of this Night" and hundreds more. After his retirement he continued writing hymns.
Johann Jacob Rambach, the writer of the second hymn, grew up in a cabinet maker’s home and intended to follow in his father’s footsteps, but illness and injuries made it difficult for him to do so. He began studying theology, especially the Old Testament, at Halle University where the Pietist movement was in full flower. He became a popular teacher there. A voluminous writer, he had an important role in the pietist movement. His hymns are some of the best of the Halle hymns.
The translator was Peter Sveeggen long time English professor at Augsburg College.
Greet Now the Swiftly Changing Year
The American Cantorei, Robert Bergt conductor--a lovely recording in Jary’s honor https://youtu.be/JIvHasOtvqQ
Concordia Publishing house Choir/Richard Jeffrey Composer
A similar tune to a similar text by Tranovský
Wer nur den lieben Gott, tune for second hymn
Organ Bach BWV 647
Organ improvisation by Bálint Karosi at St. John's Lutheran/wonderful
Jazz Version in a German church this summer during the shutdown
Jazz piano version https://youtu.be/B23hG2Jt0q8