Christmas is past, the Magi, however, are still making their way to Bethlehem, but they won’t arrive until the day after Epiphany Eve (Twelfth Night) in January.
This week we celebrate the First Sunday of Christmas—the last Sunday of the civil year 2020.
The first hymn is no. 276, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I’ve always found praising a deity for that deity’s faithfulness a bit odd. I would think “faithfulness” would surely be one of the prerequisites required of any supernatural being who was to be praised and adored. But even though I might think that, it isn’t how humans have actually acted through history. Many cultures did indeed offer sacrifices to gods they knew to be unfaithful.
The Greeks had a god, Dolos, who was the god of trickery, deception and treachery—and they also had a goddess of fraud, Apate. The Romans had a god called Mendacius. Who would trust a god with a name like that?
“Great is Thy Faithfulness” must be a reassuring hymn in times of tribulation, as Old South Haven has sung this hymn five times this year: on April 19, May 17, July 5, August 23, and December 27. It was also in the March 29 bulletin for a service that never happened, and would have been sung by those who went through that Sunday’s bulletin and sang the hymns alone, at home. (That second Sunday after the shut-down was B.Z., “Before Zoom.”)
In any case, it is always better to have a god who is reliable than one that isn’t.
https://youtu.be/N2i7_X8RQis “Great is Thy Faithfulness” sung a cappella by Veritas
https://hymnary.org/page/fetch/PH1990/306/high “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” 1st page
https://hymnary.org/page/fetch/PH1990/307/high “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” 2nd page
https://youtu.be/yC69ylqzpJ0 “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” soprano
https://youtu.be/didFMq9rGmc “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” alto (almost melodic)
https://youtu.be/_f0cI_uWeA4 “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” tenor
https://youtu.be/pe-T4n94ctc “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” bass
The words of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” were written in 1923 by Thomas Chisholm, when he was about 57 years old, and the music was written by William M. Runyan that same year.
You can see the score and the words here:
https://hymnary.org/hymn/PH1990/276 “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”
Thomas Obadiah Chisholm
Birth: Jul. 29, 1866, near Lake Spring, Simpson County, Kentucky
Death: Feb. 29, 1960, Methodist Home for the Aged, Ocean Grove, New Jersey
Thomas Obadiah Chisholm, late in life.
Although said to be in poor health for much of his life, he died at age 93 years, 7 months.
William Marion Runyan
Birth: Jan. 21, 1870, Marion, Wayne County, New York
Death: Jul. 29, 1957, Pittsburg, Crawford County, Kansas
The text is believed to be based on a passage from the Book of Lamentations, but there are other Biblical verses relating to God's faithfulness.
The writer of Lamentations, presumably Jeremiah, may have known that other cultures had unfaithful gods, so I suppose it was necessary to affirm that Yahweh was one that was faithful.
Considering the time the Book of Lamentations was written, shortly after the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah and Jerusalem, destroyed the (first) Temple, and took away the King (Jeconiah) and his court and the wealthy and ruling class to Babylon, it would have been a difficult affirmation to make.
The author of Lamentations was able still to affirm that the Lord's faithfulness was great, as he concluded the Hebrews had deserved whatever had happened to them. It wasn't God's fault, they had it coming.
Perhaps the same thing might be said of the prophets of today:
https://youtu.be/9gIAtDxyTaM “God has already sealed Trump’s victory in Heaven.”
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
The Old Testament reading is Isaiah 61:10 to Isaiah 62:3.
I exult for joy in Yahweh,
my soul rejoices in my God,
for he has clothed me in garments of deliverance,
he has wrapped me in a cloak symbolizing vindication,
like a bridegroom wearing his garland,
like a bride adorned in her jewels.
For as the earth sends up its shoots
and a garden makes seeds sprout,
so Lord Yahweh will cause deliverance to grow,
and his people have reason to praise him in the sight of all nations.
“For the sake of Zion I will not be silent,
for the sake of Jerusalem I shall not be quiet,
until her vindication shines brightly
and her deliverance burns like a torch.”
The nations will then see your vindication,
and all kings your glory,
and you will be called a new name
which Yahweh's mouth will reveal.
You will be a crown of splendor in Yahweh's hand,
a princely diadem in the hand of your God.
The second hymn is no. 256, “Let the Whole Creation Cry,” by Stopford A. Brooke.
Stopford Augustus Brooke was born in the Glendoen rectory in Donegal, Ireland, on 14 Nov 1832. He died on 18 Mar 1916. He was ordained in 1857 in the Church of England and was a “chaplain in ordinary” to Queen Victoria. (That means he answered to the Queen, not to the Archbishop of Canterbury.) When Stopford Brooke was 48 he decided he no longer believed in the tenets of the Church of England, seceded from the church, and became an unofficial Unitarian minister at Bloomsbury until he retired in 1896.
You can read some of Stopford Brooke’s sermons here: https://archive.org/stream/earlylifejesuss00broogoog#page/n6/mode/2up The Early Life of Jesus, Sermons Preached at Bedford Chapel, Bloomsbury, by Rev. Stopford A. Brooke, M.A. (published in 1888).
The tune is SALZBURG (1678) by Jakob Hintze (1622-1703), harmonized by J. S. Bach.
Jakob Hintze was known as an excellent contrapuntist.
https://youtu.be/-hcM4xUA6Es “Let the Whole Creation Cry,” music score, hymn played on organ
https://youtu.be/OhzPRCfrsXo “Let the Whole Creation Cry,” played by a string quartet (synthesized)
Here’s just the tune, on piano:
http://www.hymnary.org/media/fetch/149206 SALZBURG by Jakob Hintze, as harmonized by J. S. Bach, on piano
The epistle lesson is Galatians 4:4-7.
But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights. To show that you are his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who cries out, "Father, my Father." So you are no longer slaves but God's children. Since you are God's children, God has also made you heirs.
Luke 2:22-40 is the gospel reading. The lesson begins with Mary and Joseph taking their child Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem “to do what was customary according to the law.”
The preceding verse, Luke 2:21, is not included in the reading:
“At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
The Circumcision of Christ (1590) by Federico Barocci (ca. 1535-1612)
We never sing a circumcision hymn, because there aren’t many good ones (in English anyway), as you can tell from the words below from one by Sebastien Besnault—which is one of the better ones:
O happy day, when first was poured
The blood of our redeeming Lord!
O happy day, when first began
His sufferings for sinful man! . . .
Lord, circumcise our hearts, we pray,
Our fleshly natures purge away;
Thy name, Thy likeness may they bear:
Yea, stamp Thy holy image there!
That hymn does have the redeeming quality of being usually sung to a tune by Bach, but I couldn’t find a YouTube video of anyone singing it.
The reading then begins with the story of Joseph and Mary taking their baby to the temple in Jerusalem “to present him to the Lord” as the law required for every first-born male. Then Simeon enters the story.
Simeon Reverencing the Christ Child by Greg K. Olsen
A devout and righteous man in Jerusalem named Simeon was directed into the temple courts by the Holy Spirit. Simeon took the baby in his arms and declared:
“Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permit your servant to depart in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples:
for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
So the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!”
[A hymn about Simeon is “Just and Devout Old Simeon Lived” which appeared in the Scottish Psalter and Paraphrases (1800).]
Not only does Simeon make his prophecy, another is present in the temple, Anna, and she recognizes that the baby has a special destiny too. Anna the prophetess was very old. As a young woman, after having been married to her husband for only seven years, her husband had died, and Anna had lived as a widow ever since—for eighty-four years. She lived in the temple, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” Anna came up to Mary, Joseph, and the baby, and “began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
You can watch all these events take place in a video:
https://youtu.be/SswGxaRo3dw “Presentation in the Temple”
Jason Neal’s sermon title is “From Great to Good.”
Jason is almost certainly the youngest elder elected by the Old South Haven congregation. He was elected to serve as an elder at the Annual Meeting held on 24 Jan 1993, when Jason was 17 years, 11 months and 28 days old. He had already preached in the church. (Jason preached on Youth Sunday, 12 Apr 1992.)
Though the youngest, Jason wasn’t the only member of the church to be elected to be ordained an elder at a young age. Roger Kickerer Jr. born 08 May 1949, was elected to serve on Session at the Annual Meeting of 15 Jan 1971, when he was 21 years, 8 months and 8 days old. He served one three-year term on Session. In November 1961, Roger had helped Dr. Wiswall, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Light, and the other volunteers lay the 65-foot brick walkway from South Country Road to the church. (It was all done with volunteer labor.) Roger Kickerer had sung in the Old South Haven choir when he was in high school, and would also sing with the choir when he was back from college. He had a friend, Paul Richter, who was the organist at Old South Haven in the early 1960s (until May 1964) while he was an organ student with George Markey at the esteemed Guilmant Organ School in Manhattan. Old South Haven was Paul Richter’s first paid staff position of his 42-year career of church work. Later in life, Roger Kickerer lived in Manhattan and after a couple of decades there were few at Old South Haven who remembered his name. So it was surprising that when he died in December 2004, he left $50,000 to Old South Haven Church. The bequest was used to repair the Hinners organ. His friend Paul Richter flew in from Oregon to play at the organ’s rededication on 21 April 2007.
The closing hymn is “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” hymn no. 29. The lyrics and melody were collected by John Wesley Work, Jr. (also known as John Wesley Work II). John Wesley Work, Jr., the son of a slave, was born 06 Aug 1871 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was a director a church choir, some of whose members later formed the Fisk Jubilee Singers. He attended Fisk University, taught in Tullahoma, Tennessee, and studied at Harvard.
John Wesley Work II
You can hear a rather interesting NPR story (broadcast on 25 Feb 2011) about the life of John Work II here:
In 1904, John Work II became a Latin and history instructor at Fisk. Working with his wife, Agnes Haynes (whom he had married in 1899), and his brother, Frederick Jerome Work, he collected slave songs and spirituals. Their second collection, New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro (1907) included "Go Tell It on the Mountain." It was the spiritual’s first publication.
The administration at Fisk developed a dislike of the old spirituals in the 1920s—partly because the songs had been part of slave worship and were a reminder of slave life, and partly because white minstrel performers had begun to parody the songs and ridicule slave religion. John Work II was forced to resign in 1923. (Or he felt his work to be so unsupported and unappreciated by the university that he had to resign.) He then served as president of Roger Williams University in Nashville. He died 07 Sep 1925.
The arrangement in the blue Presbyterian Hymnal was done by John Wesley Work III.
John Work III was born 15 Jun 1901 in Tullahoma, Tennessee. He obtained a B.A. degree in history in 1923, then attended Julliard School of Music. He then obtained a masters in Music Education from Columbia University in 1930. He next received a bachelor of music degree from Yale in 1933. Then he taught music theory at Fisk. He became director of the Fisk Singers in 1946.
From 1950 to 1957, he was chairman of the Music Department at Fisk. His health became poor after touring with the Fisk Singers in Europe in 1956. He retired in 1966 and died 17 May 1967.
You can hear “Go Tell It on the Mountain” as sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers here:
https://youtu.be/Bc3TmiTVFzM “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers
Here is an a modern arrangement:
https://youtu.be/sPVa2QdF4Xg “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” performed by Remedy, a University of Dayton a cappella group
Here is a rather odd performance by a group called Cloverton, singing in Manhattan (Manhattan, KANSAS, that is). I’ve been to Manhattan, Kansas, many times. It’s the home of Kansas State University. I dated a math major, Cheryl Diane Smith, who attended graduate school there. It was 140 miles away from Liberty, Missouri. Those long-distance relationships rarely work out.
https://youtu.be/0EWWKdUZARY “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” sung by Cloverton (with accordion, acoustic guitar, and snare drum)
According to their web site, the group Cloverton “propelled” onto the Christian music scene in 2011. They’re one of the better known “Manhattan-based” bands.
Here is “Go Tell It on the Mountain” sung by Vanessa Williams:
https://youtu.be/G45ktb9JiBs “Go Tell It on the Mountain/Mary Had a Baby,” Vanessa Williams