Posted by: Bay Presbyterian Church | December 14, 2017

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

December 3, 2017

You have, no doubt, been splashed by what is, tongue in cheek, referred to as “Worship Wars.”  You know…Traditional or Contemporary.  We have been effected by it.  Very early in our existence, a young adult—perhaps 22 years old, approached me and said she would no longer attend our church—unless we began introducing guitars and a drum into our musical repertoire.  I thanked her for her input.  Of course, she only came a half dozen times a year, so I didn’t pay much attention to her.  That isn’t who I am and that is not who we are as a church.  We are not belligerent…I just prefer a more classical tone.

What you should know is that “Worship Wars” over music in the church is NOT new.  When the pipe organ was introduced into the church–in some quarters it was considered scandalous.  And in the early 18th century a composer and lyricist came along who also scandalized the church with his lyrical prosaic verse and assigned to swinging melodies: “O God Our Help in Ages Past”…”When I Survey”…”Joy to the World.”

His name was Isaac Watts.  And he was a purveyor of contemporary music.  There were some who preferred more traditional, liturgical music.  Of course, retrospectively, we don’t distinguish between Isaac Watts, the contemporary artist, and the more traditional artists.  I suppose 200 years from now, people will laugh at us and wonder what the big stink was between Keith Getty, Chris Tomlin—William Cooper, John Newton and Isaac Watts.

Among those holding up the traditional side was an Anglican Cleric by the name of John Mason Neale.  He was English, born in London in 1818.  Anglican is the name of the Church of England that Henry VIII started when Pope Clement refused to grant him an annulment from Catherine of Aragon.  Now 300 years down the line, John Neale comes on the scene as a rising light.  He was a brilliant student at Cambridge and a prize-winning poet.  In search of a more traditional and liturgical mood—different than some of the music of his day—Neale went back in time.  In the 800’s – 1,000 years previous—Latin hymns were sung each day during Christmas vespers.  Vesper is from the Greek—meaning “evening”—and the church would gather folks from December 17-23 in the evenings for evening prayers.  The Latin hymns were called the great anthems or the “O” anthems because each of them began with “O.”

In the 13th century the hymns were collected and put into its present form.  Neale—who like to put ancient Latin and Greek hymns into English—found this collection of “O” hymns and translated them into English– His original version—has seven verses (one for each day 12/17-12/23).

Today I want to take a peek at this “O” hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and see from where the ancients drew their inspiration.  By the way, we remember John Mason Neale’s work whenever we sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Good Christian Men Rejoice” and “All Glory Laud and Honor” on Palm Sunday—all, in classic Neale style, traditional hymns.

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