09 December 2012

Sing We All of Christmas: O Sing a Song of Bethlehem

Three of the four original verses of this poem appear in the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (144).  Each one discusses a location of Jesus' life:  Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Calvary.  (The original poem also included Galilee).  Thus as we sing, we journey with Christ through His life and ministry.
The tune here used, KINGSFOLD, bring up a fascinating aspect of hymnology:  one tune can be used with any poem of equivalent meter, sacred or secular.  This is not to say, however, that hymns necessarily borrow secular musical style.  In many if not most instances of this practice, the original musical style of a time and its arrangement would have been the same, whether it was of sacred or secular origin.
KINGSFOLD itself has been set to and arranged in at least several ways:  to the texts "Dives and Lazarus," "Come All You Worthy Christian Men," "The Star of County Down," and "We are Poor Frozen-out Gardeners," and arranged by both Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams (Fantasia for harp and strings, Dives and Lazarus).
Whatever the number of arrangements and texts that go along with this tune, I still like to meditate on its simple message--the message that means all the world to me.
O sing a song of Bethlehem,
Of shepherds watching there,
And of the news that came to them
From angels in the air:
The light that shone on Bethlehem
Fills all the world today;
of Jesus' birth and peace on earth
The angels sing always.
O sing a song of Nazareth,
Of sunny days of joy,
O sing of fragrant flowers' breath,
And of the sinless Boy:
For now the flowers of Nazareth
In every heart may grow;
Now spreads the fame of His dear name
On all the winds that blow.
O sing a song of Calvary,
Its glory and dismay;
Of Him who hung upon the tree,
And took our sins away:
For He who died on Calvary
Is risen from the grave;
And Christ, our Lord, by heaven adored
Is mighty now to save.
(Text by Louis F. Benson; melody collected by Lucy Broad wood, this arrangement by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  For more information, see the Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal as well as the Oxford Book of Carols, 1928.)
Note:  As you can probably guess, the photo does not look down on Bethlehem.  But I like the mixture of field and town anyway.

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