It may not come to a surprise to most of you that writing a hymn about the Fall in Genesis 3 (the traditional first text in a Lesson & Carols service) is difficult. That hymn is still stewing.
The second traditional text is Genesis 22:15-18 which I still haven’t fully decided if I want to write on that text or find another text about the ancestors God covenanted with. That hymn is still stewing.
So I jumped ahead to the traditional third reading: Isaiah 9:2, 6-7. This text is way more intimidating than the Fall. How can I do better than Handel?? You simply read this text and hear For unto us a child is born, for unto us a son is given.
Something about knowing I couldn’t do better than Handel made writing this hymn easier. I poured through my hymnals trying to find the right tune for the feeling I was getting from the text. After a long time I stumbled upon BRYN CALFARIA by William Owen (1852) in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (the tune is used in hymn #272). You can listen to the tune here.
This tune is not as singable as ABERYSTWTH, the tune of the hymn about Creation. In the recording you can hear I struggle with the tune a bit. Part of it is the tune and part are the words I chose to use in the lyrics. I could swear I’ve never heard this tune before, but the grandness and the odd meter just seemed to fit the Isaiah text. If you were actually going to use this in a Lessons & Carols service I would suggest this being a solo or choral piece unless your congregation knows this tune or is heavily musical. But since this is a spiritual discipline project and may never be sung in a congregation, I feel ok about that.
I love how the text is prophetic, yet present, and still yet future focused. There are any number of ways one could interpret this text. If I was preaching or leading a class I wouldn’t leave out verses 3-5. I would wrestle with them, and I would have a whole lot more historical context to help people wrestle with it themselves.
For this project, I have kept the traditional verses and interpreted within a Lessons & Carols service–which is to say Christologically. This is not the whole story behind the text, so I encourage you if you’re interested to ask your pastor or another church leader for a good book about the interpretation of Isaiah.
Ok, back to the carol. My favorite part of this text is the second part of the first verse:
Drenched in Light a spark of hope!
I hope you enjoy this hymn as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Here’s some Handel for you as well in case you haven’t heard it this Advent season yet.