Starting the September of 2017, I started writing and emailing reflections on the hymns for the upcoming Sun- day on a regular basis. These reflections include information on the text, music, spirituality, and other background about the hymns. They are emailed on a weekly basis to dozens of members at LCOS. If you are interested in receiving them, please email Austen Wilson. Below is an example of reflections for two hymns from January 6, 2019, Epiphany Sunday.
Much of the information is from The Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Worship and published by Augsburg Fortress in 2010. It was compiled by Paul Westermeyer, one of the world’s foremost writers on church music in the Lutheran Church. When I refer to “hymn”, I am most likely refer- ring to the text by itself. Oftentimes, the text and the tune were written by different people.
300 The First Noel
Both the text and tune for The First Noel have obscure origins. Paul Westermeyer calls the “Noel” refrain kind of a birthday cheer since “Noel” comes from the Latin word “natalis”, denoting birth or birthday. The text is English, but the author is unknown. The first time it was published was in 1823. The tune first appeared in 1833 and John Stainer harmonized it for a hymnal in 1871. The First Noel tells the story of the star leading the wise men to the baby Jesus. Let us sing this hymn joyfully, praising God for the birth of Jesus.
302 As with Gladness Men of Old
William Dix, an English hymn writer, wrote this text around 1860 in addition, to others such as “What Child is This”. If the tune sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same tune as the tune associated with “For the Beauty of the Earth”. William Monk, who composed the tune for hymns such as Abide With Me, altered the original German tune, paired it with the text for As with Gladness Men of Old”, and named the tune DIX, after the hymn’s author. “As with Gladness Men of Old” has many parallels to the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Matthew 2: 1 – 12). Rather than just being pas- sive, the hymn takes the commentary one step further. Each verse starts with what happened, then commends us to do likewise. For example, the third verse starts with the perspective of the wise men “As they offered gifts most rare at thy cradle, rude and bare”. The same verse shifts to our perspective, “so may we with holy joy, pure and free from sin’s alloy, all our costliest treasures bring, Christ, to thee, our heav’nly king”. The first part mentions gifts and the second part mentions treasures. The other verses of the hymn have similar parallel language. May we go forth from church remembering the light of Christ throughout the week.