I did not give anyone a heads up for this one, but it’s an idea that I’ve been considering for about a day now, give or take (mostly take).
I always love when the YouTubers I follow do Vlogmas for the Christmas season, whether they post video logs (vlogs) daily or weekly. I thought I would do one for this blog – hence, “Blogmas”. My goal is to find 25 Advent-themed hymns from all the hymnals I own that are my absolute favorites or that I really like because of their adaptability to choral arrangement and performance. If I run out of hymns before I reach 25, I will move on to CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), although a lot of those are modern renditions of classic hymns–I’d have to get pretty creative with those.
For sentimental reasons, I will first be using Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal. This is the hymnal I used in choir and the arrangements in here are absolutely beautiful.
We begin with hymn #86: “A People Who Walked in Darkness”. The text was written by Mary Louise Bringle in 2008 and copyrighted by GIA Publications in 2009. The music was written by Sally Ann Morris in 2008 and copyrighted by GIA Publications in 2009. This hymn is an adaptation of Isaiah 9. For copyright reasons, I will reproduce the scripture (Isaiah 9:2-7), but not the lyrics, just in case. For reasons of scholarship and readability, I try to use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) whenever possible.
“2 [b] The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
I believe the first time I sang this song was for the 2016 Advent concert, Carols of Many Nations. This is one of the songs that I love for its musicianship. It really showcases soprano voices, and I love the overall shape of it.
It’s very joyful overall, and if I were to compare it to anything, I would compare it to a candle. This seems fitting, considering that many Christian traditions light candles on Advent. This week’s candle is the Prophet candle–how fitting, considering that the prophet Isaiah is our musical muse today. (Hmm…maybe I can create a theme. This week’s hymns can be based on either prophetic writings or specifically the prophet Isaiah…although pretty much all Advent hymns are prophetic).
Just like the light of a candle has different, um, phases, so does this song. The verses are calm and steady, but still emit joy, similarly to how the light from the candle may stay steady for a period of time while still giving off light. Suddenly, the flame may jump or flicker–that’s what the chorus does: “WONderful COUNselor, ALmighty God!” Then it simmers down: “Father forever, Prince of Peace.” It’s like a heartbeat on a hospital monitor. Everything’s fine; then the patient gets excited by something, and there’s a sudden spike in their heart rate. I can even hear a brass band accompanying this with great military-like flourishes on each syllable, and then settling back into a smooth legato melody.
Theologically speaking, this hymn is all positive. It is a crescendo. A song of victory. People were living in darkness, but then the light of the hope of Messiah Jesus shone forth.
I think darkness is much more than just the typical/stereotypical “You’re living in darkness because you’re not a believer and you don’t know Jesus.” There’s levels to this, son.
Darkness is also the hopelessness of experiencing failure and rejection so many times that one wonders if it’s even worth having hope.
Darkness is also struggling to make ends meet without knowing what the next meal will be.
Darkness is also escaping violence and poverty only to find that the doors of opportunity are closed even to refugees.
Darkness is also the heavy fog of mental illnesses.
Darkness is also systemic oppression and structural sin.
But in the midst of all of the different ways that darkness manifests itself in our individual lives as well as in society, one truth still stands: Jesus Christ is the light and the hope that shines forth. At the time this prophecy was written, Jesus was just that: a hope. A hope that had not been realized. A promise that had not yet been fulfilled. But now it has. And it continues to be fulfilled everyday when we realize that we have the power to make this world more like God’s kingdom and to embody the qualities of Jesus on this earth.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” –John 1:5