This Sunday, the Celebration Choir will lead us in worship through their Christmas cantata, Night of the Father’s Love. Please plan to join us!
The composer of the cantata, Pepper Choplin, says of the writing process: I focused on the words “worship, mystery, and beauty.” My desire was not to be on the cutting edge, but to create a fresh telling of the Christmas story that is worshipful and beautiful. The result is a lovely collection of readings and songs–both new music and traditional carols–based on three themes: The Anticipation, The Story, and The Response.
1. The Anticipation
We’ll open with The Coming of the Lord, which quotes from Psalm 24:7: Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in and from Isaiah 40:3-5: In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. This song is to prepare us for the great story of hope and love that’s about to be told: our waiting soon will end! God will dwell with us as Emmanuel.
Lift up your heads, O gates, and make the highway straight,
Prepare to celebrate the coming of the Lord!
Your waiting soon will end, God’s glory will descend,
Rise up and welcome in the coming of the Lord.
Prepare the way for the coming of the Lord!
The ancient words foretell, God with us, He will dwell,
Christ, our Emmanuel, and all will see the glory of the Lord!
The second song is simply called Waiting. It’s a prayer with three parts: 1) We are waiting, 2) We are listening, and 3) Give us patience.
Waiting, we are waiting, Lord.
Fill the mind ’til we find Your light, Your truth.
Waiting, we are waiting, Lord
Fill the mind ’til we find Your will, Your way.
Now let us know Your presence, Lord, Emmanuel, God be with us.
We welcome You with open hearts, Emmanuel, God be with us.
Listening, we are listening, Lord.
Draw near, let us hear Your Word for us.
Patience, give us patience, Lord.
When we pray, give us faith that You hear every prayer.
I find this to be a challenging message. Are we really seeking God’s will and God’s way? Are we really listening for His word? Do we have faith that He hears our prayers? These are all parts of making room in our own lives for Emmanuel, God with us.
2. The Story
The events of Christ’s birth are told here over the course of four songs which cover the announcements of the angels, the birth, the shepherds, and the wise men. First is Angels Are Making Their Rounds, which is my favorite song in the cantata. Look at all the angel activity recorded in the Bible surrounding Christ’s birth: the angel who told Zechariah that Elizabeth would have a son, the angel who told Mary she would have a son, the angel who Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, and the angels who brought the good news to the shepherds. In this song, each of these messages is sung by a section of the choir (alto, soprano, bass, and tenor), each with its own melody, and then all four of those melodies are sung at once! The effect is that of many angels making their rounds with their messages from God.
Fear not, Zechariah, for the Lord has heard your prayer.
Elizabeth will bear a son.
Hail, O blessed one, you have found favor with God.
O blessed one, you have found favor with God.
Fear not, Joseph, go and take Mary to be your wife,
For she carries a holy Child.
Unto you is born a Savior.
Glory to God and peace on earth, for now the Lord is with you.
The next song is Night of the Father’s Love, which gets its title from the two carols it blends together: Of the Father’s Love Begotten and Silent Night. Of the Father’s Love Begotten is a lesser-known carol for many people, but the words are beautiful. (This text is from the 5th century AD and the tune is from the 11th century, so if you tend to like older songs, here you go!)
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega. He, the source, the ending, He.
Of the things that are, that have been and the future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore.
After the choir sings this verse, the women continue with the same words at the same time the men are singing Silent Night. Listen for how well these two melodies work together.
The next part of the story is the shepherds, told in The Shepherds’ Song.
While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came near and glory shone around.
He said, “Fear not, for I bring good news, it shall be for all people.
For unto you is born this day a Savior, Christ the Lord.
For unto you is born this day, there in Bethlehem,
A Savior, who is Christ the Lord, and this shall be your sign:
And this shall be the sign to you: for you shall find the baby,
There, all wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo!
The words gloria in excelsis Deo (glory to God in the highest) have been set to music many, many times with many composers’ ideas of the sound of “a great company of the heavenly host.” And of course we won’t know until we reach heaven what that sounds like, but we can still praise God through these words and through the writings of composers using God’s gift of music.
The story of the wise men is told in Seeking the King, an interesting song because it’s told from the perspective of the wise men themselves–and ourselves, as we continue to seek after our King. Here’s an interesting thought:
We bring gold to crown Him with royalty, frankincense to show His divinity.
We bring myrrh, the fragrance used when someone dies,
Though we’re not sure the reason why.
Did the wise men realize what was ahead for the newborn King? Did they know that instead of reigning over an earthly kingdom, that He was the one who would be bruised for our transgressions?
3. The Response
What would be your response to a face-to-face encounter with Emmanuel, God with us, as the shepherds and wise men had? You would Fall on Your Knees, as they did, and worship Him:
Come, see the Child, He is here by the fire,
Silently come, draw near the manger side.
Look in His face and see the world’s salvation,
And feel the holy peace, fall on your knees.
Come now, and fall on your knees as you worship in His presence.
Thanks be to God you have found the holy Child.
Blessed are all who have seen the Lord’s salvation.
Come and lift your voice. Let your heart rejoice
And praise the Prince of Peace. Fall on your knees.
And having worshiped Him, you would want to tell others about your encounter! That’s the idea of the last song, Christ Is Born, Nowell!
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell!
Joyous news we come to tell,
Christ is born, Nowell!
I want to say a special thank you to each member of the Celebration Choir. Thank you for spending every week since August rehearsing, practicing at home, marking your music– and remembering to look at what you marked in your music! Thank you for your loving and giving spirit as you work together to prepare to lead others in worship. Special thanks to Dee and Hunter for joining us. Thank you to our narrators, Lara, Tom, and Janice, for sharing the story through the spoken word, and to Steve for wrestling the sound system into submission!
Glory to God in the highest!
Night of the Father’s Love: The Awe and Mystery of God with Us by Pepper Choplin. Copyright 2010 Lorenz Publishing Company. CCLI #3163058.