“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
1. Come, thou long expected Jesus, Born to set thy people free; From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear Desire of ev’ry nation, Joy of every longing heart.
2. Joy to those who long to see Thee Day-spring from on high, appear. Come, Thou promised Rod of Jesse, Of Thy birth, we long to hear! O’er the hills the angels singing News, glad tidings of a birth; “Go to Him your praises bringing Christ the Lord has come to earth!”
3. Come to earth to taste our sadness, He whose glories knew no end. By His life He brings us gladness, Our redeemer, Shepherd, Friend. Leaving riches without number, Born within a cattle stall; This the everlasting wonder, Christ was born the Lord of all.
4. Born thy people to deliver, Born a child, and yet a King, Born to reign in us for ever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. By thine own eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone; By thine all-sufficient merit Raise us to thy glorious throne.
“Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” Words by Charles Wesley, 1744 Hymn Tune: HYFRYDOL (18.104.22.168.D.) Music by Rowland Prichard, 1830
There are many well-matched hymn tunes and texts in the treasure trove of hymnody. A well-matched tune not only fits the poetic meter of the text, it helps to undergird, emotionally interpret, and express the meaning of the text. Crafting or finding music that aptly conveys and strengthens the message of the lyrics is called text painting. Examples of hymn tunes that beautifully paint the text include:
“Holy, Holy, Holy” by Reginald Heber (1783–1826) Set to the tune NICAEA by John B. Dykes, 1861
This hymn echoes the threefold praise of God’s holiness found in Scripture (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). It affirms the doctrine: “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.” The motive of the tune accompanies the words “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It consists of a rising arpeggio of the tonic chord: a major triad made up of a root, 3rd, and 5th. It is a musical illustration of the doctrine of the Trinity: 3 notes, one chord.
“How Firm a Foundation” from John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787 Set to the tune FOUNDATION from John Funk’s Genuine Church Music, 1832
This hymn affirms the certainty of God’s Word. All that God has said and promised will surely come to pass. The tune conveys firmness by emphasizing the structural tones of the major scale. Most of the melody consists of the three notes of the tonic triad (the most stable chord of the key).
“O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” a Medieval Latin poem ascribed to Bernard Clairvaux (1091–1153) Set to the tune PASSION CHORALE by Hans Leo Hassler, 1601, harmonized by J.S. Bach, 1729
Hassler’s tune in minor with Bach’s harmonization captures well the “grief,” “anguish,” and “sorrow” in the text. Bach concludes with a cadence in the relative major, as the hymn expresses both the suffering of Christ on the cross and God’s grace and love that come to us through Christ’s sacrifice.
“Up from the Grave He Arose” (Low in the Grave He Lay) Set to the tune CHRIST AROSE Words and music by Robert Lowry (1826–1866)
Lowry’s hymn celebrating Christ’s resurrection begins with an 8-measure subdued verse (“Low in the grave He lay”) leading into a 12-measure triumphant chorus with dotted rhythms and expanded range. The chorus opens with an ascending arpeggio on the tonic chord interpreting the words “Up from the grave He arose.”
“Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts, 1719 Set to the tune ANTIOCH by Lowell Mason, 1836, based on music by G.F. Handel, 1742
This familiar Christmas hymn proclaims Christ’s incarnation. The tune begins with a descending major scale conveying the text: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” The melody then ascends, returning to the starting note, reaching up with the words: “Let earth receive her King!”
A lesser-known Christmas hymn, whose tune beautifully portrays the text, is “Who Is This So Weak and Helpless.” This hymn begins with the birth of Christ, then points us to His life, suffering, and death on the cross. The first half of each verse focuses on Christ’s humiliation and asks the perplexing question: “Who is this?” The question is tied to the hymn’s motive that begins with the opening notes of the minor scale, rising a minor third from “a” to “c” (from tonic to mediant). The second half of each verses answers the question posed in the first half. We see Christ’s exaltation in stark contrast to His humiliation: “Who is this?” Answer: “Tis the Lord!” “Tis our God!” The motive also begins the second half of each verse, but the notes are raised a third. Now the notes rise from “c” to “e” (a major third), brightening the motive with uplifting wonder.
It seems improbable that the child who “coldly in a manger laid” is “the Lord of all creation.” It seems astounding that “a Man of Sorrows” is indeed “our God, our glorious Savior.” Yet this is the profound mystery of the incarnation.
Below is the full text of the hymn. As you celebrate this Christmas season look from the manger to the cross and marvel at the wondrous way that God has accomplished our salvation.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Who Is This So Weak and Helpless?
“He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not” (John 1:10).
WHO is this so weak and helpless, Child of lowly Hebrew maid, Rudely in a stable sheltered, Coldly in a manger laid? ‘TIS the Lord of all creation, Who this wondrous path hath trod; He is God from everlasting, And to everlasting God.
WHO is this, a Man of Sorrows, Walking sadly life’s hard way, Homeless, weary, sighing, weeping, Over sin and Satan’s sway? ‘TIS our God, our glorious Savior, Who above the starry sky Now for us a place prepareth, Where no tear can dim the eye.
WHO is this? Behold Him shedding Drops of blood upon the ground! Who is this, despised, rejected, Mocked, insulted, beaten, bound? ‘TIS our God, who gifts and graces On His church now poureth down; Who shall smite in holy vengeance All His foes beneath His throne.
WHO is this that hangeth dying While the rude world scoffs and scorns, Numbered with the malefactors, Torn with nails and crowned with thorns? ‘TIS the God who ever liveth ‘Mid the shining ones on high, In the glorious golden city, Reigning everlastingly.
“…for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people, for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11).
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I especially enjoy sharing and celebrating through music the good news of Christ’s coming. If you are a guitarist looking for music to play during this season of Advent and Christmas, here are a few hymns and songs I recently added:
You are welcome to copy and share these hymns with friends and fellow guitarists. You can use them for accompanying congregational singing, playing prelude or offertory music, or simply playing for your own enjoyment. Please copy the full page with the website address and the “Used by Permission” notice at the bottom (see Permissions).
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night—O holy night, O night divine!
Translated by John S Dwight, 1855
Music by Adolphe Adam, 1847
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1–2).
Isaiah 40 begins with some amazing words of hope. In the midst of pending judgment, Isaiah points the nation of Judah to the coming of the Messiah. He speaks of Christ who would come and tell the weary and downcast:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
In 1741 George Fredrick Handel opened his oratorio Messiah with a setting of Isaiah 40. Seventy years earlier, in 1671, a German minister named Johannes Olearius fashioned the same passage into a hymn: Comfort, Comfort Ye My People. Olearius was born in 1611 (the same year the KJV translation of the Bible was completed) and he attended the University of Wittenberg (where Martin Luther had taught theology).
The hymn is set to a tune from the Genevan Psalter composed by Louis Bourgeois to fit Psalm 42. Psalm 42 includes the refrain:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Olearius’ hymn is a beautiful setting of God’s words of comfort to His people. It was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1863.
Comfort, Comfort Ye My People
Comfort, comfort ye my people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem,
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.
Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
She has suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever springing gladness.
For the herald’s voice is crying
In the darkness far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance,
Since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him,
And the hills bow down to greet Him.
Make ye straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits His holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o’er earth is shed abroad;
And all flesh shall see the token,
That His word is never broken.
A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
And all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
When the breath of the LORD blows on it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah reminds us that God always is faithful to His Word.
Our experiences in this life are temporary—including both joys and trials; but God’s Word endures forever. We are like the grass that withers and the flower that fades—but God and His Word are not. Darkness and difficulties may come, or prosperity and ease—but regardless of circumstances, regardless of how well or how badly things appear to be going, God will always accomplish all He has purposed. His Word is true and faithful. For Judah, devastation and exile are looming, BUT there is hope, there is comfort, there is a SAVIOR. Christ will come, because “the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.”
1. Such love that brought the Savior down
That He would come and dwell
With sinners whom He came to save
From certain death and hell,
From certain death and hell.
Our need was great, our sin had caused
A deep and deadly rift,
Which only God could reconcile
With His most precious gift,
With His most precious gift.
2. It was God’s plan to send His Son,
A gift of love and grace,
To save a people for Himself
Out from our dying race,
Out from our dying race.
And thus to die Himself, He came
To suffer in our stead,
And e’en before He bore the cross
A manger was His bed,
A manger was His bed.
3. Let us rejoice this Christmas Day
And share our gifts and love,
The Word made flesh has now appear’d,
So sang the hosts above,
So sang the hosts above.
And thus a star and angel choir
Announce His lowly birth,
The incarnation of our Lord,
God’s love brought down to earth,
God’s love brought down to earth.