As I write this it is mid-November and already I have been hearing Christmas carols – in stores, on the radio, and on TV. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. But this year I was surprised – by my reaction! Usually my response to the early push for Christmas is “really, people?! Can’t we get through Thanksgiving first?!” This year, however, I’ve enjoyed it. Maybe because the first carol I heard was a jazz rendition of traditional favorites, but I soaked it up. And it got me thinking. People have been singing God’s praise for Christ’s birth for a very long time. So what is the oldest carol we know?
I went ruffling though our hymnals and found some amazingly old songs of praise. The oldest contenders are “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”. Both are in our Pilgrim (red) hymnal. The tunes are later compositions but the words are from the 4th century!
But you know, there are even older ‘carols’ than those. And you can find them….in the Bible. Yes, the psalms are the ancient hymnal of Israel, but the New Testament has hymns too. And our oldest Advent carol was sung by none other than Mary. We call it ‘The Magnificat”, from the Latin translation of the first lines - “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46)
This is her song:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Sorry, no tune has survived, so you can’t find it on iTunes. But you know, we still are singing her song! Our modern 21st century rendition is in our Chalice (blue) hymnal, #130. Take it out and sing for joy! And join us through the Advent and Christmas season to celebrate the wonderful gift of Christ our Savior.
God’s abundant grace to you all, Pastor Rosemary