November 24 (Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time). On this “Reign of Christ” Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent begins, consider using “The Shepherd King” (Choristers Guild CGA970), with words by Mary and music by Dorothy Christopherson. Mary wrote the text in response to a sermon she heard on this day. The pastor began by telling a story about a woman who had questioned why the stained glass windows in their sanctuary showed Jesus portrayed in apparently conflicting ways. In one window, Jesus was pictured as a king, seated on a throne with a scepter and orb in his hands. In the other, Jesus was shown as a shepherd, holding a staff and cradling a lamb in his other arm. Which picture showed the real Jesus? The pastor preached about Jesus as a “shepherd king,” emphasizing the pastoral nature of the reign of Christ. The anthem is for unison/two-part voices with piano.
Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a national holiday, and ecumenical and/or interfaith services are held in many communities on Thanksgiving Eve or earlier in the week. If you would like to make that service more inclusive, consider substituting these two stanzas (which Mary wrote at John’s request) for the third stanza of “Now Thank We All Our God:
In temple, synagogue,
from minaret and steeple,
let songs of praise ring out
from all God’s faithful people,
to One who gives us hope,
in times of deep despair,
that peace will come one day,
and justice will be fair.
Sing praise and thanks to God,
whose rule in love is grounded,
who cares for all our needs
with grace that is unbounded,
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore,
the God who was and is,
and shall be evermore.
December 1 (First Sunday of Advent) “The Holy One of Israel” draws on Isaiah 2:2-4, the reading from the Hebrew scriptures. The hymn was adapted from the last song in our musical, Isaiah’s Dream. It is included in our collection, Come Away with Me: A Collection of Original Hymns. (Abingdon). Young singers could sing “Isaiah Had A Dream from God,” found in our Sing the Stories of God’s People: Thirty More Songs for the Youngest Singers (Augsburg Fortress)à
December 15 (Third Sunday of Advent) “The Holy One of Israel” and “Isaiah Had A Dream from God” would also be appropriate for this Sunday when Isaiah 35:1-10 is read.
December 22 (Fourth Sunday of Advent). “Surprised by Angels” (“When Mary Heard the Angel Say”), is yet unpublished, but you can write us for a copy of this hymn based on the angel visitations to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. It can be sung by the congregation in unison, but John has also written a harmonization for SATB choir, an alternate accompaniment for a string quartet, a flute descant, and a handbell enhancements, all of which may be mixed and matched at will. (See Hymn Commissions for a free download of the hymn.)
December 24 (Christmas Eve). Many churches sing our “One Holy Night in Bethlehem,” a hymn that is found in our collection, Time Now to Gather: New Hymns for the Church Family (Abingdon), and also in the United Methodist and Presbyterian supplements, The Faith We Sing and Sing the Faith. If placing a crèche or pantomiming the Nativity story from Luke is part of your service, here are two options: “Song of the Creche,” a hymn from our collection, The Song Lingers On (Zimbel), or an anthem, “Shepherd’s Carol (Augsburg Fortress) for unison voices, with optional solos. Another anthem for Christmas Eve is “The Cold Night Is Quiet” (Choristers Guild CGA1035) for SATB with piano and optional flute. Younger children could sing “Gloria” from our Sing the Stories of Jesus: Twenty-five Songs for the Youngest Singers (Augsburg Fortress).
December 29 (First Sunday after Christmas). The Gospel reading for this Sunday tells the story of Herod’s slaughter of the infant boys that precipitated the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt. Our hymn, “As Rachel Mourned the Children,” draws on that story in a way that is relevant to today when contemporary “Herods” are causing children to suffer from reduced nutritional programs and lack of medical care. The hymn is included in our collection, Come Away with Me.
January 6 (Epiphany)
Our hymn, “Spirit-Child Jesus,” is a appropriate for the end of the Christmas season, as it focuses on carrying the spirit of Christmas throughout the year. It is found in our collection, Come Away with Me, and also in the United Methodist supplement, Worship and Song (Abingdon).
We have a new hymn about the wise men and their gifts that was inspired by one of Martin Luther’s sermons on the Nativity. The second stanza reads:
“Yet Mary must have questioned such gifts for one so small.
He could have used a blanket, a rattle, or a ball,
not incense for a temple or myrrh for one who’s dead,
or gold enough for monarchs to crown his little head.”
John named the hymn-tune BAINTON, in memory of church historian and Luther scholar, Roland Bainton, one of Mary’s favorite professors at Yale Divinity School. For a copy of the hymn text and tune, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For children ages 4-7, take a look at “Finding Jesus,” one of the songs in our collection, Sing the Stories of Jesus (Augsburg Fortress).