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Christmas Music, Part 2 – Joy To The World

Joy_To_The_World-Antioch

Joy To The World

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King.

Isaac Watts wrote  the words to “Joy to the World” in 1719, based on Psalm 98 in the Bible. The hymn originally glorified Christ’s triumphant return at the end of the age, rather than a song celebrating His first coming. Only the second half of Watts’ lyrics are still used today.

The music was adapted and arranged to Watts’ lyrics by Lowell Mason in 1839 from an older melody which was then believed to have originated from Handel. The name “Antioch” is generally used for the hymn tune.

As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

 
 

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Hymn History: Count Your Blessings

Count your blessings. Name them, one by one.

This simple mandate for cultivating gratitude and thanksgiving is the opening line in the catchy chorus of “Count Your Blessings,” a church music staple first published more than a century ago.

All these years later, the four verses and chorus can be summed up this way: Counting your blessings may be the antidote to feeling disheartened.

The remaining line of the chorus implores you to, after counting and naming the blessings, to “see what God has done.”

The faithful act of assessing blessings and acknowledging what God has provided in your life may give perspective when challenges and conflicts occur, as the four verses detail (see sidebar).

The author of these song lyrics acknowledges that you can feel burdened and life can seem unfair. So can counting your blessings really help when turmoil swirls around you and discouragement weighs heavy on your mind?

Such was the case for Jacob, who, in Genesis 28, is fleeing from his angry brother, Esau. When Jacob stopped for the night at a place he would later name “Bethel,” Jacob was in the midst of a bad situation. He was alone, scared and had nowhere to go. He also had no idea about how his circumstances might turn out. That night in a dream, God reassured Jacob that He was with him, that He had a plan for Jacob’s life and that He would not leave him. Jacob awoke the next morning with a change of heart and life didn’t seem so bad. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” Jacob said, “and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16)

Numerous stories in the Bible remind you to look beyond your circumstances to see you are not alone, that “the Lord is in this place,” providing anecdotal evidence of the importance of gratitude.

In addition to the anecdotal proof, the virtues of gratitude have been proven by science.

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the test group was asked to daily write down five things for which they were thankful. After doing this every day for one week, the test group reported better sleep patterns and a more positive emotional outlook than the control group.

Members from Perryville United Methodist Church in Perryville, Kentucky, perform “Count Your Blessings.”

Whether the song’s author was battling tough times when he wrote the lyrics is unknown. What we do know is that Johnson Oatman Jr., the lyricist, was a Methodist Episcopal minister who had a penchant for songwriting. “Count Your Blessings,” intended as a song for youth, first appeared in “Songs for Young People,” which was published in 1897 by the Methodist Book Concern, a precursor to The United Methodist Publishing House. Over Oatman’s life, he penned more than 5,000 songs, including the classic hymn “No, Not One.”

For “Count Your Blessings,” Oatman partnered with E.O. Excell, who put Oatman’s words to music. Excell operated a Chicago-based publishing business specializing in Sunday School materials and collaborated with the Methodists for numerous projects. Fun fact about Excell is that he is the same person who wrote the arrangement of “Amazing Grace” that is most often sung throughout the world today.

But back to “Count Your Blessings.”

Once “Songs for Young People” was published, “Count Your Blessings” became a favorite, quickly gaining popularity throughout the world.

Beginning in 1899, only two years after its debut, “Count Your Blessings” appeared in at least half-dozen or more new hymnals each year, a pace that continued for at least a decade. The song was added to hymnals published by the Methodists, Presbyterians, Disciples and southern gospel publishers. Even into the mid-20th century, the song continued to be a favorite.

The song was especially popular in the United Kingdom. During the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival, the largest Christian revival in Wales during the 20th century, it is told that “Count Your Blessings” was sung at every service.

One account from a London daily newspaper says that when the famous British evangelist Gipsy Smith presided over a meeting, he announced a hymn, saying, “Let us sing ‘Count Your Blessings.’ Down in South London, the men sing it, the boys whistle to it, and the women rock their babies to sleep to the tune.”

In addition to the upbeat, simple tune that people have found easy to remember, its message has been uplifting folks for generations.

“Like a beam of sunlight,” wrote J.H. Hall, Oatman’s biographer, in “Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers, “(’Count Your Blessings’) has brightened up the dark places of the earth.”

Crystal Caviness works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email or at 615-742-5138.

This story was first published November 14, 2019. 

From https://www.umc.org/en/content/count-your-blessings-an-antidote-to-despair

 

 

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Hymn History: As The Deer

“As the Deer” by Martin Nystrom,
The Faith We Sing, No. 2025

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Middle Hymn “As the Deer” on Sunday September 18, 2022 was played by Liz Eunji Moon on piano, accompanied on guitar by Brian Stevenson and AJ Rios and sung the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.

“As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God” (Psalm 42:1, NKJV)*

On his website, http://martynystrom.com/, the composer introduces himself in self-effacing terms:

“I am a married father of two sons and live in the Seattle area. My degree is in music education and I have taught music in a wide variety of settings. I have written over 120 songs that have been released by publishers of Christian praise and worship music. My best known song is the worship chorus, ‘As the Deer.’” He notes that, “I seem to write songs when I am not purposefully trying to write one.”

“As the deer,” written in 1981, is one of the most popular songs in the contemporary Christian musical (CCM) genre written in the latter twentieth century. Martin J. Nystrom (b. 1956) is a native of Seattle, Washington. After graduating from Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma (BME, 1979), he served as musical evangelist with Christ for the Nations, Dallas, Texas [www.cfni.org] and produced five praise and worship albums for Hosanna! Music, Mobile, Alabama.

Lindsay Terry, in his book The Sacrifice of Praise: The Stories Behind the Greatest Praise and Worship Songs of All Time(2002), describes the circumstances surrounding the creation of this song:

“Marty was a schoolteacher in Seattle, and since he had the summer off, he decided to go to the summer term of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas. Little did he know what was about to happen to him, especially with all that he would be exposed to and the worship emphasis of the school. . .

He had graduated from Oral Roberts University and, frankly, was a little overwhelmed in ministry. He had been involved in many things at the school, not the least of which was the television ministry of ORU. All of his studies combined with many other activities had caused stress to take its toll on Marty’s spiritual life. . . .

Marty’s roommate at CFNI was a vibrant Christian who challenged Marty to go on a fast, thinking it would help him recover his joy. Marty took up the challenge, and on the nineteenth day of the fast, he found himself sitting at the piano in a room of the school, trying to write a song. He was simply playing chord progressions when he noticed a Bible on the music stand of the piano, open to Psalm 42. His eyes fell on the first verse of that chapter. After reading the verse he began to sing its message, right off the page. He wrote the first verse and the chorus of a song, practically straight through. The entire song was completed in a matter of minutes.”

Though Mr. Nystrom had not intended to perform the song publically, he shared it with a friend at Christ for the Nations before returning to Seattle. His friend introduced it to the others at the Institute, and it became a favorite. Contrary to his website, the composer appears to have written closer to 250 songs. He travels extensively in the United States and Asia, participating in conferences and retreats.

After paraphrasing the first verse of Psalm 42, the song reflects on this passage, continuing in the first person perspective of the psalm:

You alone are my heart’s desire
and I long to worship you.

The second section draws upon the familiar biblical images of “strength and shield,” concluding with the sentence cited above.

Most of Mr. Nystrom’s songs are composed as a single stanza. The compilers of the Canadian United Church hymnal Voices United (1995) asked Lydia Pederson to write two additional stanzas to paraphrase the remainder of the psalm. Pedersen is former music director at Royal York Road United Church in Toronto, and an active member of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. An additional attempt at two stanzas appears in the Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook(1996).

The editors of the two hymnals that requested additional stanzas noted that the original song felt incomplete when viewed in the context of the entire psalm. Selections of Psalm 42 follow:
“My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? (verses 2, 3, KJV) . . .

“I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (verses 9, 10, 11, KJV).

On the one hand, the effectiveness of the original song is found in its simplicity; the singer can internalize and memorize the song, offering this sung prayer directly to God. On the other hand, the poignant questions of the remainder of the psalm echo the questions of many worshipers in their lives. Singing additional stanzas, however, changes the experience from a simple prayer to God to the experience similar to singing a multi-stanza hymn. One solution is to retain Mr. Nystrom’s original stanza and insert it between spoken sections of the psalm as a refrain.

Regardless of the approach to incorporating the song into worship, one cannot deny the effectiveness of “As the deer” as sung prayer in myriad settings around the world. Mr. Nystrom attended a conference in Korea in the 1990s that began with 100,000 Korean Christians singing his song – a dramatic witness of its power.

*Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-as-the-deer

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2022 in Hymn History, hymns, Posts of Interest, Videos

 

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Abide With Me

I’m sure that many would think that this is a semi-odd choice for all-time favorite hymn.

My dad was a Congregational (now United Church of Christ) minister so I was pretty regular in church attendance in my younger years.

Some Sunday evenings, he would preach on a circuit and I’d go with him to some of these tiny churches.  The people there, mostly older folks, liked the old hymns best – Fanny Crosby and so on.

So, some of my “favorite hymns” are going to be those that I sang when I was out with my Dad.  Fond memories from long ago.

In 1986 I was finally diagnosed with Cushing’s after struggling with doctors and trying to get them to test for about 5 years.  I was going to go into the NIH (National Institutes of Health) in Bethesda, MD for final testing and then-experimental pituitary surgery.

I was terrified and sure that I wouldn’t survive the surgery.

Somehow, I found a 3-tape set of Readers Digest Hymns and songs of Inspiration and ordered that. The set came just before I went to NIH and I had it with me.

At NIH I set up a daily “routine” of sorts and listening to these tapes was a very important part of my day and helped me get through the ordeal of more testing, surgery, post-op and more.

When I had my kidney cancer surgery, the tapes were long broken, but I had replaced all the songs – this time on my iPod.

Abide With Me was on this tape set and it remains a favorite to this day.  Whenever we have an opportunity in church to pick a favorite, my hand always shoots up and I request page 700.  When someone in one of my handbell groups moves away, we always sign a hymnbook and give it to them.  I sign page 700.

I think that many people would probably think that this hymn is depressing.  Maybe it is but to me it signifies times in my life when I thought I might die and I was so comforted by the sentiments here.

This hymn is often associated with funeral services and has given hope and comfort to so many over the years – me included.

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.

~John 15:7

Abide With Me

Words: Henry F. Lyte, 1847.

Music: Eventide, William H. Monk, 1861. Mrs. Monk described the setting:

This tune was written at a time of great sorrow—when together we watched, as we did daily, the glories of the setting sun. As the last golden ray faded, he took some paper and penciled that tune which has gone all over the earth.

Lyte was inspired to write this hymn as he was dying of tuberculosis; he finished it the Sunday he gave his farewell sermon in the parish he served so many years. The next day, he left for Italy to regain his health. He didn’t make it, though—he died in Nice, France, three weeks after writing these words. Here is an excerpt from his farewell sermon:

O brethren, I stand here among you today, as alive from the dead, if I may hope to impress it upon you, and induce you to prepare for that solemn hour which must come to all, by a timely acquaintance with the death of Christ.

For over a century, the bells of his church at All Saints in Lower Brixham, Devonshire, have rung out “Abide with Me” daily. The hymn was sung at the wedding of King George VI, at the wedding of his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth II, and at the funeral of Nobel peace prize winner Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1997.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

~ From a post on another of my blogs, O’Connor Music Studio

 

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Hymn History: All Saints Day

November 1 is All Saints Day, a sometimes-overlooked holy day in United Methodist congregations. It is not nearly as well known as the day before, All Hallows’ (Saints’) Eve, better known as Halloween, but is far more important in the life of the church.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. In a journal entry from November 1, 1767, Wesley calls it “a festival I truly love.” On the same day in 1788, he writes, “I always find this a comfortable day.” The following year he calls it “a day that I peculiarly love.”

This may sound odd. United Methodists don’t believe in saints. Right?

Well, yes… and no.

Wesley cautioned against holding saints in too high regard.The Articles of Religion that he sent to the Methodists in America in 1784, include a statement against “invocation of saints” (Article XIV—Of Purgatory, Book of Discipline ¶104). Wesley did not see biblical evidence for the practice and discouraged Methodists from participating.

However, he also advised against disregarding the saints altogether.

In an All Saints Day journal entry dated Monday, November 1, 1756, Wesley writes, “How superstitious are they who scruple giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints!” If your 18th century English is as rusty as mine, it might help to know that the word scruple means, “to be unwilling to do something because you think it is improper, morally wrong, etc.” (Merriam-Webster.com).

All Saints Day is an opportunity to give thanks for all those who have gone before us in the faith. It is a time to celebrate our history, what United Methodists call the tradition of the church.

From the early days of Christianity, there is a sense that the Church consists of not only all living believers, but also all who have gone before us. For example, in Hebrews 12 the author encourages Christians to remember that a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounds us encouraging us, cheering us on.

Charles Wesley, John’s brother, picks up on this theme in his hymn that appears in our United Methodist Hymnal as “Come, Let Us Join our Friends Above,” #709. In the first verse, he offers a wonderful image of the Church through the ages:

Let saints on earth unite to sing, with those to glory gone,
for all the servants of our King in earth and heaven, are one.

On All Saints Day we remember all those—famous or obscure—who are part of the “communion of saints” we confess whenever we recite The Apostles’ Creed. We tell the stories of the saints “to glory gone.”

Alongside the likes of Paul from the New Testament, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John and Charles Wesley, we tell stories of the grandmother who took us to church every Sunday. We remember the pastor who prayed with us in the hospital, and the neighbor who changed the oil in the family car. We give thanks for the youth leader who told us Jesus loved us, the kindergarten Sunday school teacher who showered us with that love, and the woman in the church who bought us groceries when we were out of work.

Retelling these stories grounds us in our history. These memories teach us how God has provided for us through the generosity and sacrifice of those who have come before us. The stories of the saints encourage us to be all God has created us to be.

Charles Wesley’s hymn tells us those “to glory gone” are joined by the “saints on earth,” whom we also celebrate on All Saints Day. We think of the inspirational people with whom we worship on Sunday, and those across the world we will never meet. We celebrate fellow United Methodists who inspire us, and those of other denominations whose lives encourage us. We give thanks for those with whom we agree, as well as those whose views we do not share.

Additionally, we remember and pray for our sisters and brothers in Christ who faithfully follow Jesus in places where being labeled a Christian puts them in harm’s way.

On All Saints Day, we recognize that we are part of a giant choir singing the same song. It is the song Jesus taught his disciples; a tune that has resonated for more than 2,000 years; a melody sung in glory and on the earth. Our great privilege is to add our voices to this chorus.

The last verse of “Come, Let Us Join our Friends Above” encourages us to sing faithfully while on earth, so we might join the heavenly chorus one day.

Our spirits too shall quickly join, like theirs with glory crowned,
and shout to see our Captain’s sign, to hear His trumpet sound.

O that we now might grasp our Guide! O that the word were given!
Come, Lord of Hosts, the waves divide, and land us all in heaven.

On All Saints Day, let us give thanks for both the saints in glory and those on earth, who have led us to Jesus. As they have shared the gospel with us, may we add our voices so someone else may hear about the grace and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God for the lives of his saints.

Adapted from https://www.umc.org/en/content/all-saints-day-a-holy-day-john-wesley-loved

 

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2022 in Holidays, Hymn History, Posts of Interest

 

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