Lift Up Your Heads | Thou Dost Reign on High | Gentle Mary Laid Her Child

Lift Up Your Heads | Thou Dost Reign on High | Gentle Mary Laid Her Child

Liturgy Lessons: December 10, 2017 – Second Sunday of Advent
Musical Introit – O Come, O Come Emmanuel (one verse)
Call to Worship: Isaiah 42:1-10a
Prayer of Invocation
Opening Hymn: Lift Up Your Heads (#198, vs. 1-4)
Confession of Sin
Advent Prayer Song: Come, Lord Jesus
Assurance of Pardon: Zephaniah 3:14-18
Song of Response: Thou Dost Reign on High (#241)
Advent Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 1:39-56 (The Magnificat)
Advent Doxology: The First Noel(last verse)
Sermon: Shiv Muthukumar
Tithes/Offerings: TBA
Supper: O Come, O Come Emmanuel (#194); Lift Up Your Heads (vs. 5-6)
Closing Hymn: Gentle Mary Laid Her Child (#229)
Sung response: “Gloria in excelsis deo”

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

– Mary’s Song of Praise, the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-50

Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates!
Text: Georg Weissel (1642), tr. by Catherine Winkworth (1855)
Tune: Anonymous (ca. 1789)

This hymn, based on Psalm 24, was written by a Protestant minister for his congregation in the small German town of Königsburg (“Town of the King”). Normally associated with Advent or Palm Sunday, it is a fanfare-like declaration of the coming of the Messiah. The celebratory spirit of the anthem is especially meaningful when we consider that it was written at the height of the Thirty Years War, which by 1642 had decimated the population of Germany by 40% or 50%. Some historians speculate that the Swedish army’s invasion and the famine and disease that resulted, dwindled the German male population by two-thirds. 18,000 villages and over 1,500 towns were destroyed in Germany. Because the war was largely fought in rural areas, Weissel’s town was deeply affected. This brings added meaning to his authoring of the second and third stanzas which declare, “O blest the land, the city blessed, where Christ the Ruler is confessed,” in which “happy hearts and happy homes” can look to Christ as “the helper just” who brings “pity in distress.” The final three stanzas are a personal plea for Christ to enter in and be “Sovereign” in our hearts. Its devotional quality makes this a great hymn for us to use this Sunday because our sermon text for this week is the famous song of Mary, the Magnificat.

Last Sunday we began our worship with “Joy to the World.” One interesting thing to note is that the opening melodic line of “Lift up your heads” is an exact inversion of “Joy to the World.” In their opening four measures, these two fraternal “tw-hymns” (ok, that’s a stretch) both span the whole octave and are identical in rhythm. They are only separated by one page in our hymnal. As a fun experiment, try singing the opening line “Joy to the world, the Lord is come”, and then sing the opening phrase of this hymn as an immediate response. You will end up right back where you started. This musical gesture that lifts our heads, hearts, and voices back up to the source of original joy is one that applies to the entire Advent season. It is no wonder that the symbol the Lord used to declare Christ’s birth was a star. Look up! Lift your heads! Christ the redeemer has come!

This brilliant tune is from an anonymous source and was published in Psalmodia Evangelica in 1789 by Thomas Williams. Some historians attribute the tune to Handel, who famously set the text to Psalm 24:7 in a chorus from Messiah, which can be heard here. The great composers always know how to be economical in their writing. They achieve great effects with minimal effort. In that manner, this tune has evidence of a master’s hand. It has a grace and uniformity from start to finish. It’s one long brush stroke, a direct flight without layover, where each phrase leads seamlessly into the next. This sort of writing helps illuminate the full meaning of each verse of text, particularly when the sung text is a long, extended thought. This is the case in the fourth verse, which is an uninterrupted sentence, and by itself is a brilliant summary of the liturgical purpose of our call to worship:

Fling wide the portals of your heart; make it a temple set apart
from earthly use for heaven’s employ, adorned with prayer and love and joy.

Thou Dost Reign on High
Text: Emily Elliot (1864)
Tune: MARGARET, Richard Matthews (1876)

Many of our older congregants may be familiar with the refrain of this hymn. Frequently excerpted on its own, the refrain is a stubborn four-measure earworm that has a sweetness and lilt that perfectly captures the childlike spirit of the text, “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.” But the real substance of the hymn is in the five verses, each of which focuses on a different aspect of Jesus’ glory and humility. The first three verses are clearly about the incarnation, while the latter two point toward the cross and the second coming. This focus on Jesus’ entire life means that the hymn is not in the Advent section of our hymnal; nonetheless, for many souls it is a familiar Christmas-time hymn.

Emily S. Elliott wrote this hymn in 1864 for St. Mark’s Church (Brighton, England), where her father was rector. After a few years of being printed in leaflets, it was later published in the Church Missionary Juvenile Instructor. Unlike so many of the 19th-century hymns that were originally written for children, this hymn does not feel didactic nor saccharin, probably due to its second-person address of Jesus throughout. In many hymnals, the first line is “Thou didst leave thy throne,” which is more in line with the original text. I find this devotional hymn to be very accessible, a fitting attribute for a song that focuses on the wonder of Christ’s humility. May God’s spirit re-kindle in us a simple childlike faith as we seek to “prepare him room.”

Gentle Mary Laid Her Child
Text: Joseph Simpson Cook (1919)
Tune: TEMPUS ADEST FLORIDUM, from Piae Cantiones (1582)

Our closing hymn for this Sunday is “Good King Wenceslas.” Well, sort of. The tune will be immediately familiar to all of us, and one we associate with that tale of the Czech king and his charitable giving. However, we will be singing a different text to that well-known tune. This slightly younger text carries a similar, but more transcendent, theme about the generosity of the King of Heaven and the significance of his great gift to mankind in the form of the Christ-child. Just compare the final stanzas of both, and you will see the shift from mere moralism to reverence and worship.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Gentle Mary laid her Child, Lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled, But no more a stranger:
Son of God, of humble birth, Beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth,
Hail the King of glory!

“Gentle Mary Laid Her Child” was the winner of a carol competition sponsored by The Christian Guardian, and first published in the Christmas issue of their magazine in 1919. The tune TEMPUS ADEST FLORIDUM, dates from the 13th century, and is named after its original Latin text, which was loosely translated into English as “Spring has now unwrapped the flowers.” It was originally a spring carol, but has become a traditional choice during the Christmas season. Considering the name of the tune and its springtime origin, one recalls another more famous carol whose text is a perfect encapsulation of what we celebrate this Sunday.

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming as men of old have sung.
It came, a flower bright, amid the cold of winter when half-gone was the night.
Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind:
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright she bore to men a Savior when half-gone was the night.
This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us and lightens every load.