For a long time I have been telling people that new hymns are always being written (not just contemporary Christian songs) and that many of these will become the classics of some future day. I cannot help but melt my heart before the creche every time I sing Jaroslav Vajda's wonderful words and Carl Schalk's magnificent melody: Where Shepherds Lately Knelt. We sang it Christmas Day as the recessional hymn and I cannot think of a more wonderful statement to carry home with you from the worship on our Lord's Nativity.
Where Shepherds Lately Knelt
1 Where shepherds lately knelt and kept the angel’s word,
I come in half-belief, a pilgrim strangely stirred;
But there is room and welcome there for me,
But there is room and welcome there for me.
2 In that unlikely place I find Him as they said:
Sweet newborn babe, how frail! And in a manger bed:
A still, small voice to cry one day for me,
A still, small voice to cry one day for me.
3 How should I not have known Isaiah would be there,
His prophecies fulfilled? With pounding heart I stare:
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me,
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me.
4 Can I, will I forget how Love was born, and burned
Its way into my heart—unasked, unforced, unearned,
To die, to live, and not alone for me,
To die, to live, and not alone for me?
As Norman Nagel once wrote so eloquently, "We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before, and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day -- the living heritage and something new." Now with Jerry gone to be with the Lord, I am ever more mindful of those who have added the best of this day to that rich and wondrous tradition received from those who have gone before.
If you do not know this wonderful hymn (and anthem), listen here. Tell me its words and music have not imparted to you the wondrous hope that is this season!
So we sing the old, learn the new, and pass on to those to come the best to guide them as they add to this rich deposit their own contribution... all for the glory of the Lord and the service to his Gospel...
How rich and true
First for me. Beautiful. Thanks Rev. Peters
Dear Pastor Peters,
Thank you for your eloquently written thoughts regarding Vajda's "Where Shepherds Lately Knelt." This beautiful Christmas hymn, unknown to Grace Lutheran Church, Columbus, Indiana until about 7 years ago has now become as beloved a Christmas hymn as many others that came before it. First introduced by Cantors singing it during the Offering, the congregation now hums the tune as I play an introduction for all to sing it. Dr. Norman Nagel spoke a great truth when addressing the subject of new additions to our rich heritage of hymns and liturgy. I thank God for gifted poets in our day such as Jaroslav Vajda and Stephen Starke.
I thought I would share a little more background on this hymn, having researched it for hymn festival bulletins a few times over the years. Vajda sought to express that central historical event in a new and fresh way. In so doing, he placed himself at the manger bed and "reviewed the implications of that visit in my life and future and in that of my fellow human beings." Vajda, I believe, was concerned about the increasingly routine (and secularized) commemoration of an event whose “impact on God's heart” remains the means of our salvation. I now quote Vajda's last sentence in his essay on this hymn, "I pictured myself at the opposite side of the event from Isaiah and his prophecy (9:6, 7), applying the same promise to myself as a late-arriving pilgrim." The entire text is profoundly moving, and I find the third stanza to be especially so.
Let us celebrate each season of the year with the old and new hymns alike, giving thanks for the generous way in which God has gifted poets throughout the centuries to express His praise.
John W. Matthews, Jr.
Director of Music and Organist
Grace Lutheran Church
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