Carol Stories, week 2

Love Has Come (ELW Hymn #292, 2 & 3)
Last week we heard two Christmas hymn histories from the remnant in the hymnal we hadn’t yet heard in these Advent gatherings. Tonight we’ll start with another from that increasingly small (decreasingly large?) group.

I had also said some of the importance of these songs and their back stories is that it makes them fit more into the stories of our own lives. So as a lead-in, in my mind this is always associated with when I was a little kid and how much my mom liked playing this tune in the bell choir at Trinity Lutheran Church. (That is also a nudge to be sharing these conversations in your families.)

For origins, the details are all pretty sketchy. Something is from the Provence region of France, a rural area in the southeast known for its wine. That setting might help locate this tune. Maybe. For a comedy play by Moliere in 1666, it was a drinking tune, Qu’ils sont doux, bouteille jolie, a song about dear pretty bottles of wine that go glug-glug and if only they weren’t empty. Yet maybe it had already been a dancing and drinking song for a couple centuries before that, we just don’t know.

Well, by 1856 it was in a collection of carols of Provence, and that goofy bit of alcohol had been poured over what was probably an even older French text. The tradition is it described two milkmaids (or maybe just one?) in the stable, who are told to go and grab a light——“bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella!” Like I say, details are sketchy. It’s unclear if they were taking the torch to view the baby in the barn, or if they were going to the village to get others and bringing them to see the rosy-cheeked newborn Jesus. At any rate, by the second verse, a whole crowd from town has shown up, knocking at the door (knock! knock! say the lyrics), bringing a platter of goodies, eager to celebrate. Somebody has to shut them up, because the baby is sleeping – Hush! Hush!

The image on the screen for us tonight is by Georges de la Tour, from around 1648. Some people say that he painted it because of the song. Others say the song is based on the painting. Still others say it’s not this painting at all. I’ve also read that children in Provence even now dress up as milkmaids and shepherds and carry torches to church, singing this on Christmas Eve. (That makes it fitting for Gustav the Shepherd to come out of hiding and join us for the first time this evening.
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Yet for our own context, rather than old pastoral locales of rural life, our new words focus on God’s love saturating our lives (love 22 times with this short carol!), love in a variety of settings, not only love in a long ago stable, but love still with us for each moment, love never to leave us. Let’s sing of love.

O Lord, Now Let Your Servant (ELW page 324)

For our second one, I can’t resist pulling the old switcheroo. As a church geek who cares a lot about worship, I’m dropping this one in on you to expose you to some great shared history we often miss.

I’m going to invite you to do some paging through your hymnals to see this. First, turn to hymn #313. This is a hymn setting of what we’ll sing as a chant, and also of what we’ll hear in a Bible reading. It’s listed in the “Time after Epiphany” section of the hymnal, but I’d argue it could go in the Christmas section. See, the Bible reading is from Luke 2. The first part of that chapter is Jesus’ birth in the manger, and angels and shepherds and all. In the second part, shortly after Jesus is born, his parents take him to the temple. Following Jewish law from Leviticus 12, he was circumcised and named on the 8th day, and then an offering was given. And old fogeys Simeon and Anna rejoice in this birth. So this is still about the baby Jesus. Indeed, we’ll hear it as the Gospel reading for the 1st Sunday of Christmas on December 28.

And speaking of hearing it in worship on Sundays, why don’t you flip to page 113 in the front of your hymnal for this same set of words sung as a post-communion canticle. The idea is that just as the old geezer Simeon got to meet baby Jesus in the temple and then said he was now content to die, so also we finish Sunday worship and can go away saying that we got to meet Jesus in his Supper at Communion, and so it’s all fulfilled for us, too.

Next, we’ll see three canticles in daily prayer services. Since Latin was the official language for between 1200 and 1900 years of church history, these are often known by their Latin names: the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis. Those are the Latin versions of the first words of each canticle. On page 303 is one we sing here at Ecumenical Morning Prayer each Thursday morning. The father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, sings the Benedictus at John’s birth in Luke 1. Next, on page 314 is a setting of the Magnificat. This is Mary’s song, also from Luke 1, magnifying the amazing work God is doing through her baby. She sang it when she went to visit John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth, and the baby leaped in her womb with joy. We sing another setting of Mary’s song tonight from Holden Evening Prayer. Finally, you can turn to page 324 for a service of Night Prayer or Compline, as we get to our song, the Nunc Dimittis, ”now you dismiss your servant,” sung by Christians at the close of day for 1700 years.

You’ll notice that these three services are set to go with a certain time each day. In ancient rhythms, monks paused seven times throughout the day and even woke up in the middle of the night to pray. It’s also similar to the practice of Muslims who pause for prayer five times per day. Even more, it joins us to the natural rhythms of the world, that day and night, sun and moon, these cycles of life are joined in praising our Creator’s work for us, remembering that from morning until night, from rising until bedtime, from our birth until our death, from beginning to end, we are in God’s care and peace. The day, the purpose of life, all is fulfilled and complete. Let’s sing.