“Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming”

Music is one of the most wonderful aspects of the Christmas season.  The songs of hope, joy and love span centuries and countries, and when we sing these words or listen to these carols, we join with other believers who in other times and in other places worshiped God with the same music.

“Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” is an English Christmas carol based on a beautiful 15th century German song.  The opening lyrics refer to God’s promise to David, the son of Jesse, that Messiah would come from his lineage, and that of His kingdom there would be no end.

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,
and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD:
and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes,
neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
But with righteousness shall he judge the poor,
and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth:
and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins,
and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
Isaiah 11:1–5 KJV

If you have ever sung in a choir, you know that poignant expression of music is not limited to performances.  There are moments of unexpected wonder when words and melody give serendipitous voice to the heart.  That’s why I love this self-recorded group of college guys singing a cappella, outside in the cold.

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 floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent 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 spent was the night.

Copyright ©2012–2017 Iwana Carpenter

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“I Wonder As I Wander”

“I Wonder As I Wander” is an American Christmas carol with words and melody by John Jacob Niles. He based it on a few snatches of song he heard on July 16, 1933, in the small Appalachian town of Murphy, North Carolina:

“A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievably dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins, and as I came closer and stood beside the fantail, I discovered that her young hands were lovely, save only for the unkempt, broken finger- nails….But, best of all, she was positively beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song.”1

It’s fitting he heard this song from a child in dirt and rags, because Jesus entered our dirty world to redeem us from the rack and ruin of sin. The words are given a plaintive reflection by the minor key of the melody.

I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die,
For poor orn’ry people like you and like I,
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all,
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

1Ron Pen, Rick Kogan, I Wonder as I Wander: The Life of John Jacob Niles (The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY: 2010) 150. The year and date are mentioned on pages 146 and 149, respectively. This video omits the third verse:
If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s Angels in heaven for to sing,
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.

“The unusual melody reveals the influence of a pure modal heritage, possibly of New World settlers from the British Isles.” More on the melody here.

Copyright ©2012–2017 Iwana Carpenter

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“In The Bleak Midwinter”

In The Bleak Midwinter” is a lovely Christmas carol written by Christina Rossetti.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

In these two videos the words are sung to music composed by Gustav Holst.  The video of the Winchester Cathedral Choir features Harold Darke’s musical setting.

From the formality of Gloucester Cathedral to a coffee and tea cafe in California, Corrine May accompanies herself in a moving rendition of the song.

As different as the two locations are, the music and the words are right for both places.  But then, Christ came to all people, didn’t he?

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:10

Copyright ©2012–2017 Iwana Carpenter

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“Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel!”

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah 7:14 (KJV)

The roots of the music of Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel! go back to the 15th century.1 The Messianic titles in the lyrics, called the O Antiphons, are from the Old Testament, and their use in liturgy goes back to the 8th century.2

“The first letters of the titles taken backwards form a Latin acrostic of “Ero Cras” which translates to “Tomorrow, I will come”, mirroring the theme of the antiphons.”3

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord)
O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (O Key of David)
O Oriens (O Dayspring)
O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
O Emmanuel (O God is with Us)

Start with Emmanuel and go backwards through the Latin names, taking the first letter of each to form the phrase, “Ero Cras.”

Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel! is one of the oldest songs heard during the Advent season.

This video features scenes from The Nativity Story.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…
Hebrews 1:1-2

In the December 2010 Jews for Jesus newsletter, Ceil Rosen described a high school chorus Christmas program in which she sang which included Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel! She wrote, “Though we had rehearsed those words many times, I suddenly found myself pondering their meaning. Was there something true about Jesus being for us Jews?” Then I Met Messiah is her story.

“Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel….”

Alternate lyrics: Lutheran Worship hymnal, ECUSA 1871.
1O come, O come, Emmanuel, Tunes: Veni Emmanuel, Hymnary.org
2, 3O antiphons: Wikipedia.

Copyright ©2012–2017 Iwana Carpenter

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“And the Glory of the Lord”

The libretto of Messiah is taken from numerous books of the Bible: Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Lamentations, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews and Revelation. If you’re not familiar with the passages selected by Jennens, you can read them at the above link. The first five verses of Isaiah 40 are one of the passages set to music. The video below is Isaiah 40:5.

1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
Isaiah 40:1–5 KJV

Libretto: Old and New Testament Passages selected by Charles Jennens
Oratorio: George Frideric Handel
Antony Walker conducting the Orchestra of the Antipodes and Cantillation.

Christmas Candle Stars: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications: cropped with “Messiah” wording added.

Copyright ©2012–2017 Iwana Carpenter

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