19 December 2008

A Matter of the Heart

I've written about this before, but Philip's query below about favorite Christmas carols brings it to the fore for me again. It is amazing how the favorite hymns (and not just at Christmastide) of our people have culturally shifted. Not always a bad thing, I'm not saying that. But it seems that by and large the English carols have all but driven out the German carols from our people's hearts and minds. Yet I'd pit the theological richness of: "All my Heart," "O Rejoice Ye Christians Loudly," "From East to West," "We Praise Thee, Jesus," and "From Heaven Above" against ANY of the English carols. Musically too, these tend to have greater interest. But you can't dictate to the heart. I just hope that as time moves on, these hymns of Christmas, so beloved to our Lutheran forebears, are not relegated to the dustpan of history. And I say that as a fellow who delights in the English carols too - don't get me wrong - but hates to see the entire Lutheran corpus of hymns replaced with an English/American one. Thoughts?


Scott Larkins said...


My Scot senses are offended.

Rev. M. Erickson said...

Pr. Weedon,

Yes you are right. It is very difficult to change the heart on these matters. I have been teaching "Singing the Faith" from the Good Shepherd Institute and I have realized how much Lutheran hymnody we have to teach to Lutherans. It really takes some catechesis and time to try to bring these back in.

Elephantschild said...

I blame Lutheran Worship, my personal favorite as a hymnody whipping boy. ;)

You do have a good point, though. Perhaps it's also the fault of the loss of community choruses and of church choirs abandoning the Bach chorales in favor of those dreadful modern "cantatas?"

Laura Short said...

Whilst my favourite Christmas Carol is "The Wexford Carol", my all-time favourite, hope-to-hear-it-as-I-die hymn is "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" (How brightly shines the Morning-Star).

Whether it's sung in the Bach setting, or as a simple 4-part hymn, it's stunning in it's beauty and gracefulness. The lyrics transcend time and taste and transport me into the presence of God every time.

And I'm Irish... and not a Lutheran... ;)

jgernander said...

First, I consider the hymns such as O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and Of the Father's Love Begotten, and Now Sing We, Now Rejoice to be Lutheran hymns too. I think I've gotten this from you, with your excellent writing about "the Lutherans before Luther." The doctrine is the same.

Second, I think that for many of us the Lutheran chorales of Christmastime are just so substantive that it's hard to put them into a "favorite Christmas carol" category. That last phrase just seems too light. The great Lutheran Christmas hymns are sermons. "All My Heart" is so carefully constructed -- v. 1 the Christmas angels, v. 2-6 the Annunciation, v. 7-8 the Nativity, v. 9-11 a brief sermon on Matt. 11:28-30, v. 12 the Nunc Dimittis, v. 13-14 the Absolution, and v. 15 the Glorification. It is constructed as a sermon would be. Even if it's a sermon with childlike simplicity, it's still a sermon, such as From Heaven Above and Praise God the Lord Ye Sons of Men.

Third, one advantage the Lutheran Christmas hymns is preaching of the cross. Maybe this diagnoses a problem we ourselves have. The flesh doesn't care to hear "Jesus, alas! how can it be/So few bestow a thought on Thee" at this time, and (from the same hymn) that now is certainly not the time to be talking about "keep(ing) us ... in our baptismal cov'nant pure." Just one example. The Luther(an) view brings in "That this world's honor, wealth and might/Are naught and worthless in Thy sight." The old Adam says, Why bother bringing that in? It'll only offend people. My flesh is as bad as anybody's.

Fourth, I think what you are seeing is that in this category of "favorite hymns" we tend to go back to childhood memories. Let's face it, in childhood our pastors did not always give us the best hymns to learn. They were not bad hymns. They add to the whole picture, something valuable I think. But I'm with you, that it will take a steady diet of the superior Lutheran Christmas chorales to make us say without thinking, This is who we are at Christmas.

And finally: I Stand Beside Thy Manger Here is a hymn everyone should learn. We close the children's service with this one each year, thanks to a tradition begun by my predecessor in office here. So the last words the congregation sings are the unio mystica:

This only, Lord, I humbly pray,
O grant it, dearest Savior!
That Thou wouldst dwell in me this day
And here abide forever.
So let me be Thy cradle blest.
Come! Come within my heart to rest,
My precious Joy and Treasure!
(ELH 129 v. 5)

Pastor Jerry Gernander

Kay M. said...

I think Pastor Erickson said it. The catechesis of so many of our folks (myself included) was neglected or minimized, especially during the 60s and 79s,so that the sentimental was more accessible than the truly meangingful in hymns. Wonderful discussions on hymns, O antiphons (thank you, Pr. Weedon!) in print and on Issues, Etc. or Higher Things Radio are going a long way in repairing that deficit and bringing to people the theological depth of some of our best hymns.

Doorman-Priest said...

"Oh, Holy night."