Category Archives: Articles on Hymnody

Eighth Hymn of Christmas: In the Bleak Midwinter

Eighth Hymn of Christmas: In the Bleak Midwinter

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series 12 Hymns of Christmas You can read more posts from the series by using the Contents in the right sidebar.

In “In the Bleak Midwinter,” Christina Rosetti poetically pictures the cold, dark, hard condition of the earth when Jesus came to save us. This recognition should cause us to give ourselves–all that we have–to him. The tune, CRANHAM, comes from English composer Gustav Host in 1906. In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth… Continue Reading

Seventh Hymn of Christmas: From Heaven Above to Earth I Come

Seventh Hymn of Christmas: From Heaven Above to Earth I Come

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series 12 Hymns of Christmas You can read more posts from the series by using the Contents in the right sidebar.

“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” was one of Martin Luther’s first hymns, penned in 1535 and translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1855. Luther modeled the first stanza after a well-known German folksong, and wrote the text originally for his family’s Christmas devotions. He originally used the folk tune with the text,… Continue Reading

Sixth Hymn of Christmas: Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

Sixth Hymn of Christmas: Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series 12 Hymns of Christmas You can read more posts from the series by using the Contents in the right sidebar.

Staying with the theme of German carols, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” comes from the fifteenth century and was translated by a couple different people into English in 1894, 1875, and 1914. The hymn develops Isaiah’s prophesy concerning the “rose” from the “stem of Jesse ” (Isa. 11:1; 35:1-2). The tune is a traditional German… Continue Reading

Fifth Hymn of Christmas: How Bright Appears the Morning Star

Fifth Hymn of Christmas: How Bright Appears the Morning Star

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series 12 Hymns of Christmas You can read more posts from the series by using the Contents in the right sidebar.

Known as the “Queen of the Chorales,” this Lutheran hymn by Philpp Nicolai was written in 1599. Unusual for this time period, Nicolai also composed the tune, WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET. As is often true of German chorales, “How Bright Appears the Morning Star” masterfully combined rich incarnation theology with devotional warmth, as the singer cries, “Jesus,… Continue Reading

Fourth Hymn of Christmas: Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light

Fourth Hymn of Christmas: Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series 12 Hymns of Christmas You can read more posts from the series by using the Contents in the right sidebar.

The German Lutheran tradition has a rich heritage of Christmas hymns. “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light” comes from Lutheran pastor, Johann Rist in 1641. He originally wrote a 12-stanza poem on the incarnation that was later paraphrased and adapted as a hymn. It recalls the brilliant light at then heralding of the angels and… Continue Reading

Third Hymn of Christmas: Love Came Down at Christmas

Third Hymn of Christmas: Love Came Down at Christmas

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series 12 Hymns of Christmas You can read more posts from the series by using the Contents in the right sidebar.

Christina Rosetti has written some of the most beautiful Christmas carols, and “Love Came Down at Christmas” is no exception. Penned in 1855, this hymn centers on the theme of love–Christ is love personified, and our response to his coming should be love toward him and others. Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely,… Continue Reading

Second Hymn of Christmas: Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Second Hymn of Christmas: Of the Father’s Love Begotten

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series 12 Hymns of Christmas You can read more posts from the series by using the Contents in the right sidebar.

Almost as ancient as “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” this hymn is probably more well-known. “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” was written in the fourth century by Marcus Aurelius Prudentius, a poet from northern Spain, and translated into English in 1851 by John Mason Neale as part of the Oxford Movement. This hymn is… Continue Reading

First Hymn of Christmas: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

First Hymn of Christmas: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series 12 Hymns of Christmas You can read more posts from the series by using the Contents in the right sidebar.

“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” is one of the oldest, if not the oldest Christian hymn still in common use today. Adapted from the fourth-century Liturgy of St. James, which is still used by Eastern Orthodox churches today, this hymn text was translated into English in 1864 by Gerald Moutrie. The text is part of the… Continue Reading

Twelve Hymns of Christmas

Twelve Hymns of Christmas

Tomorrow begins the Twelve Days of Christmas, and so in honor of this festive season, I will be highlighting one Christmas hymn each of the twelve days. I’ll focus on some lesser-known hymns, complete with a bit of background, the full text, a link to a free download, and a video. Merry Christmas! Continue Reading

Advent Hymns

Advent Hymns

Advent is upon us! This is a wonderful time of year to both remember the prophecies regarding Christ’s first coming and anticipate his coming again. If all of the prophecies concerning his first coming were fulfilled with complete literalness, we can have confidence that those prophecies yet to be fulfilled will also come to pass… Continue Reading

Repentance Hymns

Repentance Hymns

This weekend I am speaking the the National Center for Family Integrated Churches Conference in Asheville, NC. The theme of the conference is “Repentance: The Reformation Continues.” I have been asked to speak on the topic, “Repentance Through Singing in Corporate Worship.” I am going to preach from Psalm 130, one of the seven “Penitential… Continue Reading

Reformation Hymns

Reformation Hymns

Reformation Sunday is coming up on October 29, and this year is particularly special since we are celebrating the 500 year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. In our church, each year on Reformation Sunday we sing Reformation hymns, that is, hymns that in some way connect to the Reformers and the movement they… Continue Reading

A Better Way to Sing “Be Thou My Vision”

A Better Way to Sing “Be Thou My Vision”

The old Irish hymn “Be Thou My Vision” is a favorite of many, but the way most Americans sing it weakens the poetic parallelism of the original. The beloved poem was originally written in Old Irish in the 8th century. Notice the repetition of “Rop” in the original verses below: Rop tú mo baile, a… Continue Reading

A new hymn pairing

A new hymn pairing

As we move closer to publishing our print hymnal, Hymns to the Living God, I want to continue to highlight some of the new and unique selections that you will both find in the hymnal and can download for free even now. One of the unique hymns about which I am most pleased is not… Continue Reading

New Hymn by David Oestreich and Josh Bauder

New Hymn by David Oestreich and Josh Bauder

In January I mentioned the sudden passing of our friend, David Oestreich. David had been a supporter and occasional contributor here on the blog, and his tragic death due to complications from pneumonia was a shock to us all. David was quite an accomplished poet. He had several of his poems published in various collections,… Continue Reading

Pastors – Become Literate in Christian Culture

Pastors – Become Literate in Christian Culture

When the topic of music and worship comes up, a favorite slap-down argument against thoughtful discrimination of music is that pastors need not study music to be faithful pastors. It is beside the point to say that pastors need not become art critics. If their vocation is that of shepherding the flock, it is manifestly… Continue Reading

A Resurrection Psalm

A Resurrection Psalm

Paul commands us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We can (and do!) debate the identity of hymns and spiritual songs, but we know what a psalm is. And for this reason, our church has adopted the practice of regularly singing the psalms. In particular, we have a “psalm of the month,” which we… Continue Reading

How many songs can one church sing?

How many songs can one church sing?

Have you ever thought about how many songs your church can sing in a year? If you consult the average transdenominational hymnal published today, you might assume that churches can sing 700 or more hymns in a given year. The truth is that most churches–and I’m being very generous in my estimate here–can only sing… Continue Reading

The profound simplicity of “Away in a Manger”

The profound simplicity of “Away in a Manger”

Christmas: the one time of the year that most churches actually sing good hymns! Some of our traditional Christmas hymns really are quite profound, the queen of them all being “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” Yet some Christmas hymns are far from perfect. Others have addressed the problems with some of these hymns. One hymn… Continue Reading

Was Jesus born in the bleak midwinter?

Was Jesus born in the bleak midwinter?

Understood as poet Christina Rosetti meant it, the answer to the question posed in the title of this post is, Yes. English poet Christina Rosetti penned the poem, originally titled “A Christmas Carol,” sometime before 1871 at the request of William James Stillman, editor of Scribner’s Monthly, where the poem was first published in January 1872. The… Continue Reading