Hymns and Lessons for Advent 4 (Cycle A)

The hymns for Advent 4 seem very “Christmassy”! Of course they do! First of all we are on the other side of Gaudete Sunday, which means our rejoicing is now constant. Second of all, take a look at the lessons for this week, the fourth Sunday in Advent: Isaiah 7:10-17, Romans 1:1-7; and Matthew 1:18-25. Don’t forget that the hymns in liturgical worship are supposed to connect with the lessons for this Sunday (and every Sunday, for that matter).

I have found YouTube versions of this week’s hymns and have inserted them into this blog. Subscribers to my blog will often find that these hymns do not survive the trip to your inbox. However, If you wish to see them, just click on the title of the blog and you will be taken straight to the website where you can see and hear them.)

The Opening Hymn is “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” which connects with the First Lesson: Isaiah 7:10-17. That lesson reads “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” And the hymn sings: “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 us a Savior when half spent was the night.” This wonderful hymn also connects with the Second Lesson: Romans 1:1-7. That lesson reads, “God promised through the prophets that his Son [would be] descended from David and … the Son of God in power.” and the hymn sings ” Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung! Of Jesse’s lineage coming as prophets long have sung. It came a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter, when half-spent was the night.” This wonderful hymn comes to us from 16th century Germany. Although the text is by an anonymous author, the familiar harmonization of the tune is by Michael Praetorius. He was one of the most versatile and prolific German composers of the early seventeenth century and inherited a deeply Christian instinct from his father and grandfather, who were both Lutheran theologians. Furthermore, Praetorius wrote one of the most important systematic compilations of early seventh century musical thinking.

Here it is with all 4 verses:

The Prayer of the Day prays “Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen. ”

The Old Testament reading is the glorious prophecy from Isaiah 7:10-17: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call His name Immanuel.”

The Epistle is Romans 1:1-7. In these verses, Paul says that he has been “set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord”.

The Gospel is Matthew 1:18-25. Joseph learns that Mary has become pregnant before their marriage, and he knows that he is NOT the father of this baby. Joseph is not going to marry her, until God sends him a dream. In this dream, an angel of the Lord tells Joseph not to worry about making Mary his wife because God is the father of her baby. When this baby is born, Joseph is to name Him “Jesus” (Joshua — which means God delivers) because He will save His people from their sins. Joseph is reminded that all of this is to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that a virgin would conceive and that baby would be called Immanuel, which means “God with us”. And so when Joseph woke from sleep, he took Mary to be his wife although they had no sexual relations until her son was born. And Joseph named him “Jesus”.

The Hymn of the Day is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” This important hymn connects with all three of the lessons for this Fourth Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7:10-17, Romans 1:1-7; and Matthew 1:18-25. This hymn sings the seven great “O Antiphons”. These seven ancient antiphons were used at Vespers (right before the Magnificat) during the last seven days of Advent, beginning December 17. Although the exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known, Boethius (480 – 524 A.D.) refers to them, indicating that they have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early church. They are called the “O Antiphons” because each of them begins with “O” and then gives a title of Christ taken from scripture: O Wisdom from the mouth of the Most High, O Adonai Lord of Might, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring splendor of light everlasting, O Desire of the nations, and of course, O Emmanuel. All seven of these are from Isaiah: 11:2-3 and 28:29; 11:4-5 and 33:22; Isaiah 11:1 and Micah 5:1; Isaiah 22:22 and 9:6; Isaiah 9:1; Isaiah 9:5 and 2:4; and Isaiah 7:14. And don’t forget that Emmanuel means “God with us.” The hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is a lyrical paraphrase of these antiphons. So as you sing this hymn, you are joining with the earliest Christians to voice your adoration of the God who keeps His promises.

“People look East”, the distribution hymn, is just fun to sing! We are preparing for Christmas, we are preparing for the Second Coming, and it’s all great fun here this side of Gaudete Sunday. In each verse we celebrate that “Love the Guest”, “Love the Rose”, “Love the star”, and “Love the Lord” is on the way. “People, look east. The time is near of the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table. People look east, and sing today — Love the Guest, is on the way.” … “Angels announce with shouts of mirth Him who brings new life to earth. Set every peak and valley humming with the word, the Lord is coming. People look east, and sing today — Love, the Lord, in on the way.”

And the service ends with the recessional hymn “Joy to the World” as we walk out of worship and straight into the (almost) full joy of Christmas. “Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive its king; Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room and heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.” The words of this hymn are by arguably the greatest hymnwriter in the English language: Isaac Watts. He wrote the words of “Joy to the World” as a hymn celebrating Christ’s triumphant return at the end of the age, rather than His first coming. This hymn is based on Psalm 98. The music was adapted and arranged to Watts’ lyrics by Lowell Mason who was believed at the time to have adapted the music from Handle’s Messiah. After all, the theme of the refrain (“and heaven and nature sing”) appears in “Comfort ye” from Handle’s messiah. Plus the first four notes of the hymn match the beginning of two of the choruses: “Lift up your heads” and “Glory to God.” And even if Handle did not compose the entire tune, it is fitting that The Messiah should have been thought to be the inspiration for the music. This magnificent hymn has been the most-published Christmas hymn in North America right up until today! (I had to look all over before I found a version that had all 4 verses!!)

Have a glorious and joyful worship service this Fourth Sunday in Advent! I’ll see you at worship.

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