Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Have no fear, little flock. . .

Heinz Werner Zimmermann is a composer about the same age as my mom.  I have gravitated toward some of his work since I first encountered it, the setting of Psalm 27, The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation.  But it is another we used on Good Shepherd Sunday, Have No Fear Little Flock.  Zimmermann spent a year at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, in 1967, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate.  This time seems to have solidified his ties with American Lutheranism.  He wrote for Concordia Publishing House, completing this text and tune for his Five Hymns (1973).  I have always appreciated the lightness of the two tunes with which I am most familiar and how well suited the marriage of text and tune.

Have no fear, little flock, Have no fear, little flock,
For the Father has chosen To give you the kingdom;
Have no fear, little flock...

In the additional three stanzas supplied by Marjorie Jillson, of all things a dental secretary, the theme of Zimmermann is expounded.  She collaborated with Zimmermann on two collections and so she was no stranger to the musical and textual themes he developed.  Her third stanza is the one that comes to mind here.

Praise the Lord high above, Praise the Lord high above
For He stoops down to heal you, Uplift and restore You;
Praise the Lord high above...

That very Sunday we sang this hymn, a family discussion brought up a very tall young man in our parish who was an usher that day.  In apt portrayal of just what we sang, my wife witnessed how he stopped down to one of the very small children to look her in the eye and address her on her level.  It was just a moment and no one perceived anything exceptional happening but it was in the shadow of this hymn that this small act was seen and in that context it became much larger.

It is the same thing we sing in the Magnificat of Mary -- the high regard for the humble servant that God has shown, how He has kept His humble servant in His kind regard.  In other words, the God who has stooped down to His chosen to give us His Kingdom and to heal through forgiveness His wounded children.

We do not regard the regard of God as much of anything.  In fact, I wonder if we have not become so accustomed to God's presence that we have come to assume it, to assume we deserve it, and therefore to esteem His esteem as something ordinary instead of spectacular.  Few would expect a very tall teen age boy to think of how distant and intimidating his height is to a toddler.  Yet this young man was conscious of it and stopped down to address the child on her level.  This is exactly what God has done.  The miracle of the incarnation is that God, the mighty Lord of heaven, has become the God enfleshed, the Lord Jesus Christ, born of Mary the Virgin Mother.  He has stooped down to us.  He has addressed us with the mercy of God by becoming one of us, yet without sin, that in His esteem for us we might know the esteem of the Most High God.  He has done this certainly because death was the price of our redemption and the unavoidable payment for sin but we should not minimize the grace that shown to us just in His stooping down.

One of the most wonderful perspectives of faith is to find the surprise of grace in the mere fact that God the Most High has stooped down to us, for us.  To forget or pass over this miracle is to miss the delight of what it means for God to love us.  We dare never esteem His esteem too lightly.

There is a wonderful scene in the movie The Kings Speech in which the King has met with his speech therapist at the therapist's home while his wife and sons are away.  Much to the surprise of his wife, who returned home unexpectedly, the Queen is sitting at her dining room table and she is confronted with the King of England.  "Will their majesties be joining us for dinner?" she asks.  For certainly this was not what she had expected and yet instinctively she knew her manners and she knew the amazing circumstance that had come to her home.  I wonder if we have not lost our sense of surprise, forgotten the grace that is revealed first in the esteem of the Most High who has stooped down to us...  For surely if we knew this and rejoiced in it, we would esteem the honor of the Lord's presence in the Eucharist and His service to us in this Holy Sacrament more highly than we do...  An occasion not for fear, but for rejoicing...  An event not of intimidation but of grace upon grace...  If Elizabeth should speak such to Mary with child, should we not speak in this same way of the God who stoops down to us to feed us and nourish us upon His own flesh and blood?  "Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?"

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