Wednesday, December 18, 2013

#370, in which with the angels we too would rejoice

#7 "Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains" (music and lyrics: John Menzies Macfarlane, based on Luke 2:8-20)

This is the only hymn of the fourteen in which the chorus is longer than the verses themselves; the familiar refrain of "glory to God in the highest" is four lines compared to the two allotted for each verse. That makes it an easy hymn to sing if you aren't familiar with the lyrics, since you can just wait for the chorus to come back around, but for someone like me looking for nuggets to uncover in the lyrics, that makes it a little challenging.

And yet, the extra-long chorus is so long for a reason. Each verse ends with a colon. The chorus represents the song of the angels in the first two verses, and in the final two, it represents the song of our own hearts. The song is one and the same:

Glory to God, Glory to God,
Glory to God in the highest;
Peace on earth, goodwill to men;
Peace on earth, goodwill to men!

It's the same message we've heard from each of these hymns, although I'd draw your attention to the exclamation point at the end. While most of these hymns have been quiet and reverent in tone, this one encourages loud rejoicing. The hymnbook recommends that we sing "joyfully," which is hardly surprising; the word "joy" appears twice ("joyous" and "rejoice") in those short verses. We've shown our reverence and respect for the newborn King; in this hymn, we get to celebrate.

There's one other unique word in this hymn, though, that I particularly want to emphasize to you. Of the fourteen Christmas hymns, this is the only one that uses the word "help." In fact, none of the other hymns includes any sort of request for aid, though "Away in a Manger" comes closest ("I ask thee to stay"). Here's where it appears in verse three:

Lord, with the angels we too would rejoice
Help us to sing with the heart and voice.

We hear the songs and shouts. We hear the joy from the angels. And we want to join in, only maybe our voice can't communicate that feeling as well as they can. Maybe our hearts aren't as softened and pure as their are. We give it our all, but somehow, it's just not quite enough. And so we ask the Lord, the Lord who is paradoxically in the very cradle we're singing about, to help make our hearts as the angels' so we can sing like them.

The reason we sing this chorus at all is because He can heal our hearts to be able to sing with the heart and voice, and He does. We turn to Him with that desire, and He makes it possible. And as our hearts unite with the angels', we sing that fourth verse, waiting for others to join with us:

Hasten the time when, from ev'ry clime,
Men shall unite in the strains sublime:

Glory to God, Glory to God,
Glory to God in the highest;
Peace on earth, goodwill to men;
Peace on earth, goodwill to men!

Previously in this series

#8 Once in Royal David's City
#9 Angels We Have Heard on High
#10 It Came upon the Midnight Clear
#11 O Little Town of Bethlehem
#12 With Wondering Awe
#13 Joy to the World
#14 While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

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