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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
What’s for Worship New Year’s Day, 2012
By webmaster @ 2:17 PM :: 1498 Views :: 2 Comments :: Kenneth Dake

Several audio samples of this week’s music are included for you to enjoy as you read.

Endings and Beginnings

Hymn: This Is a Day of New Beginnings; Text – Brian Wren (b. 1936), Music – Kenneth Dake    Wren's original text began as a question, “Is this a day of new beginnings?” He explains: “In itself, the new year is an arbitrary convention... The recurrent awakening of life in nature is not a strong enough foundation for hope of real change. Yet by faith in the really new events of the Christian story, a day, or a month, or an hour can become charged with promise, and be a springboard to a changed life.”  Wren’s inspired words, which were written for a New Year’s Day service at Holy Family church in Blackbird Leys, Oxford, England, challenge us to seize and act upon the real hope found in Christ.

Brian Wren is the Conant Professor of Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, and a Minister of the United Reformed Church (Great Britain).  His hymn-lyrics are published internationally in hymnals of all Christian traditions.

I felt compelled to set This Is a Day of New Beginnings to new music in honor of the 2009 installation of Dr. Michael Brown as Senior Minister of Marble Collegiate Church.  [LISTEN]  I wanted to compose a tune that was bold and sing-able, one that would sweep the congregation along in forward motion similar to Vaughan Williams’ Sine Nomine (For All the Saints), which served as my model.  I added an extra measure at the conclusion of each verse, causing the music to never fully resolve or come to a stop.  Likewise, God is never finished doing new things in our lives.  May we stay open to God’s perpetual re-creation in our lives, and day by day, year by year, may we continually become more of who God is calling us to be.

Christmas – Only the Beginning

Anthem: And All in the Morning by Gerald Near (b. 1942)  Do you experience post-Nativity depression?  With the marathon that began at Thanksgiving suddenly over, it’s easy to think of Christmas as the finish line, the culmination of weeks of effort.  This may represent the world’s view, but liturgically Christmas has only begun.  In our haste to take down the decorations, exchange unwanted gifts and just get on with our lives, these sacred commemorations of Christ's infancy are often overlooked.

And All in the Morning is based on an old English Carol which speaks of several important “mornings” – of which Christmas is but the first.  [LISTEN]  Soon will come Twelfth Day, otherwise known as the Feast of Epiphany (January 6th).  This marks the manifestation of Jesus to the world, symbolized by the visit of the three Magi to the manger; in many cultures this is also known as Three Kings Day.  Next we will sing of Candlemas Day (February 2nd), which commemorates the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  The name Candlemas (Candle Mass) evolved from the tradition of blessing the candles during the mass that were to be used in worship during the coming year, but that has little to do with the actual meaning of the day.  As recorded in Luke 2:22-38, Joseph and Mary abided by Jewish law and brought the 40-day-old Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated.  They offered the required sacrifice, forgoing the full-blown lamb and instead opting for the accepted poor man’s sacrifice of two turtle-doves or two young pigeons.  Upon seeing the baby Jesus, the old man Simeon pronounced Him the Messiah for which he had been waiting his whole life.  Mary and Joseph were amazed at Simeon’s prophesy about the future of their son.  His words of praise at seeing Jesus have now become the oft-sung Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation...” 

Our anthem then skips jarringly to the foreboding darkness of Good Friday  morning, reminding us of all the pain and sacrifice this barely-born Child is destined to bear for our sake.  And with a series of rapidly rising scales in the organ, the final verse of our anthem proclaims the joy of Easter morning when Jesus will rise triumphantly, appearing to the faithful on earth on his way back to His heavenly home.  American composer Gerald Near’s creative treatment of this traditional carol highlights the storyline behind the text.  It was written while he was composer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John (Episcopal) in Denver, Colorado.

Home By Another Way

Anthem: The Shepherds’ Farewell from L’enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)  Berlioz rather uncharacteristically turned to a gentle, harmonious style in composing his 1853 oratorio L’enfance du Christ.  When critics enthusiastically hailed this abrupt turnaround Berlioz bristled, saying it was this subject matter alone and not a renunciation of his controversial musical style which inspired such a tame approach.  The oratorio is divided into three sections: I. Herod’s Dream recounts the ordered slaughter of all newborn children in Judaea (a wrenchingly painful aspect of the Christmas story which is often intentionally overlooked in our rush to be done with Christmas).  II. The Flight Into Egypt is the section from which this cherished anthem, The Shepherds’ Farewell, is taken.  [LISTEN]  Announcing the start of each verse is a simple tune, played by the oboes, representing the shepherds’ piping as they pronounce blessings on the departing Holy Family.  The third and final section of Berlioz’ work – The Arrival in Sais – depicts the Holy Family as they take refuge among the Ishmaelites in Egypt.

Our Guide Through Life

Hymn: All The Way My Savior Leads Me by Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)
  With several recent losses at Marble the question often arises: What music would the departed want sung or played at their memorial service?   Anticipating this, some have recorded preferred hymns and other music that held great meaning for them during their earthly journey.  To have these instructions as a guide in preparing their service of remembrance is a tremendous help, and it is a source of comfort to all to be able to commemorate their life with music we know they loved.  I would encourage everyone, whatever your age, to record any musical wishes and place them in safe keeping beside your will and other estate papers where they can readily be found.  Of course you can change and add to them from time to time.  This is not meant to be at all morbid – it’s a gift you can leave others that allows them to share in what was important to you.

All of that is prelude to my saying that this amazing hymn by Fanny Crosby, All The Way My Savior Leads Me, is at the very top of my own memorial list.  [LISTEN] (There are many hymns that I love, however, so my service – whenever that will be – may go on for a bit!)  God’s grace always seems clearest when seen in life’s rear view mirror.  New Year’s is a natural time for us to review where we have been and where we are going.  In looking back over the years we can identify countless ways in which God was guiding, saving, and providing for us – especially amidst our deepest, darkest valleys.   It is our ability and willingness to recognize God’s faithfulness to us in the past which then empowers us more fully to trust Him with our unknown future.

Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) was a prolific American poet, hymnist, and sought-after public speaker.  Her many beloved hymns include Blessed Assurance, To God Be the Glory, Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior, He Hideth My Soul, and numerous others.  A life-long Methodist, her over 8000 hymns are highly personal testimonies to a life lived in a most intimate relationship with Jesus.  A native of Putnam County, New York, she achieved considerable fame during her lifetime, befriending presidents, speaking before congress, appearing at Carnegie Hall at the age of 91, and teaming up with evangelists such as Dwight Moody, Ira Sankey, and Philip Bliss who incorporated her hymns into their crusades around the world. 

At the age of 6 weeks Fanny became permanently blind as the result of a doctor’s improper treatment for eye inflammation.  Amazingly, she never harbored any ill will towards the doctor or felt any self pity whatsoever.  These words say it all, written when she was in her eighties:

“If I could meet him [the doctor] now, I would say ‘Thank you, thank you’ over and over again…although it may have been a blunder on the physician’s part, it was no mistake of God’s.  I verily believe it was His intention that I should live my days in physical darkness, so as to be better prepared to sing His praises and incite others so to do.  I could not have written thousands of hymns, sung all over the world, if I had been hindered by the distractions of seeing…”  She also remarked that she felt blessed to know that the first face upon which she would ever gaze would be that of her Savior.

It’s Not Over

I leave you with two New Year’s benedictions – one musical and one poetic.  First, I invite you to pray the words of this little prayer response I wrote twenty years ago as you listen to the Sanctuary Choir sing it:  [LISTEN]

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
O come within my life to dwell.
Please make my heart Your manger stall,
Be born anew within this soul.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel.

This Christmastide, may Christ be born anew within each of us.  And may your 2012 be gloriously filled with unpredictable new births, new possibilities embraced, new risks taken, new challenges met, new songs sung, new love shared, and new hope proclaimed.  For in the words of Ann Weems:

It is not over, this birthing.
There are always newer skies
Into which God can throw stars.
When we begin to think
That we can predict the Advent of God,
That we can box the Christ in a stable in Bethlehem,
That’s just the time that God will be born
In a place we can’t imagine and won’t believe.

By tfolkert @ Thursday, January 05, 2012 8:02 PM
I like the tune for "This is a Day for New Beginnings". Good sturdy tune, and can be sung in a brisk tempo. Well done.

By tfolkert @ Friday, January 06, 2012 7:46 AM
Its also quite coincidental that just yesterday I found myself singing "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" as I drove home from seeing a client. And now, just reading more of your blog I was reminded of the hymn "God of Our Life" with words by Hugh Thomson Kerr, for years the Pastor of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. This hymn also reflects our reliance on God as our guide. Now I'll be humming that all day long! Thanks.

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