Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Thank you for taking  the time to look at my blog.  I hope you all have a blessed Christmas.  Enjoy the time with your families and friends, but also take time to remember the first Christmas and the Child whose birth we celebrate.To help you remember, here's another Christmas poem I wrote.

The Voice that Called

The voice that called to unformed light, commanding it to be,
The wisdom that for ages planned creation’s destiny,
The might that holds the earth in place, suspended in the sky,
How can they be the essence of this helpless infant’s cry?

The hand that molded every star and guides it on its way
Clings, helpless, to his mother at the start of newborn day.
This ordinary moment all of history transforms,
Molds terror into beauty, and brings peace to all life’s storms.

For in the darkened void of sin, the shadowed land of death,
To You, who into us breathed life, we cry with every breath.
For even in Time’s darkest hour, when life seems ruled by wrong,
The light of life, the word of hope, has given us a song.

The child who chose his birth into a world of toil and pain,
Who gave up heavenly garlands for this body’s choking chain,
Lies crying in a manger as the answer to our cries,
As angels sing the infant’s might and fill the star-flecked skies.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Transforming Light: A Shameless Plug

The book of poetry that I have been working on for over a year now is finally finished and available online!  It includes "Borne on Wings of Stormy Grandeur," "Christmas Mystery," and many more poems and hymns.  Some of them have been paired with melodies, while others have not.  You can purchase a paperback copy of the book here or download the content here.  To give you another taste of the book, I've reprinted the title poem below.  It's designed to go to the tune "Bryn Calfaria," which is usually sung with the hymn "Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending."  You can listen to the tune here.

Transforming Light

On this rugged, rocky mountain,
Earth is raised to heaven’s height.
Here the Son of Man stands shining,
Inner glory beaming bright.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,
God revealed to mortal sight
Shining with transforming light.

No more doubt and darkness hide Him:
Lies dissolve as truth is shown.
No mere mortal stands before us,
God now speaks to make Him known.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,
Earth transformed into His throne,
One true God, He reigns alone.

As we stand before His presence,
As we gaze upon His face,
Now our eyes reflect His glory,
Now our hearts pour out His praise.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,
Entering in His holy place,
By His true transforming grace

Soon upon God’s holy mountain,
We’ll extol our savior’s might.
Soon we’ll see God’s Son stand shining,
God revealed to reborn sight.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,
In His glory we’ll beam bright,
Shining with transforming light

Christmas Mystery

One of my poems has been posted on Bob Kauflin's blog Worship Matters.  You can read it here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Favorite Christmas Carol

Aside from having an opportunity to see my far-away relatives, my favorite aspect of Christmas is the music associated with it.  Many Christmas carols have a way of cutting through all the distractions and commercial trappings and focusing on Jesus’ birth, which is, after all, the point of the holiday.  Unfortunately, for many people, these songs lose their meaning because they are so familiar.  Since I began writing hymns, I have come to appreciate the lyrics to these carols more.  If you stop to think about the words, you will find that many of them have tremendously deep theology expressed in a way that mirrors the beauty of the Incarnation.

One carol that I find particularly powerful is also one of the most common: Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  Here are the complete lyrics:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.
Peace on earth, and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

The words mostly speak for themselves, but there are a few things I’d like to point out.  First, even from the beginning, the focus is on Christ’s role in mediating between God and humans – “God and sinners reconciled.”  At Christmas, it’s easy to celebrate the birth of Jesus without thinking about who He grew up to be or what He did.  These lines help us focus on the reason we should celebrate Jesus’ birth, the truth that he opened the way for us to have peace with God.

My favorite lines in this hymn come in the second verse:  “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see / Hail the incarnate Deity.”  Jesus’ flesh in one sense acts as a veil; although He is God, people who looked at Him only saw an ordinary-looking human.  And yet this veil paradoxically makes it possible for us to see the invisible God, the “incarnate Deity.” 

I also love the following line: “pleased as man with man to dwell.”  Incidentally, please NEVER try to make this line politically correct by changing it to “us.”  If you’re OK with performing Shakespeare using the original words, you should be OK with using the older sense of the word “man,” which just meant “human beings.”  If you’re not OK with performing Shakespeare without modernizing the words ... we need to talk.  Changing the line to “with us to dwell” destroys the poetic repetition of the word “man,” which as a poet I know was put there intentionally.  In this case, the repetition not only sounds nice, but also emphasizes that Jesus lived a completely human life, complete with all the problems people face.  Most problems in life arise from some combination of our own limitations and interactions with other sinful human beings.  Although Jesus wasn’t sinful, He was finite, and could definitely be hurt by the people with whom He was “pleased to dwell.”

The first few lines of the last verse refer to Malachi 4:2 “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”  The last few lines are also incredibly profound.  The line “born that man no more may die” includes a cool contrast between life and death, while the line “born to give them second birth” focuses on the idea of birth by repeating the word with two different meanings.

That’s enough of this poetry rant.  In this week leading up to Christmas, I’d like to encourage you to think and meditate on the words and the theology in some of the familiar Christmas carols.  There’s a lot more in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” than I pointed out here, and many other carols are equally profound.

I’d also like to encourage you to leave a comment.  What are some of your favorite Christmas carols?  Are any particular lines especially meaningful to you?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Borne on Wings of Stormy Grandeur

As my last post indicated, I write a lot of hymns.  This is one I wrote a few years ago for advent.  For those of you who don't know, advent is the season of the church calendar that lasts for the four Sundays before Christmas.  It is a time of preparation and waiting, both for Christmas, when we remember Jesus' first coming, and for the Second Coming at the end of time.

Borne on Wings of Stormy Grandeur

Borne on wings of stormy grandeur
Now the Lord Most High descends
Suns dissolve before His splendor
Every mighty mountain bends.
Every tower built against him
Crashes to the foaming sea.
None now doubt that He is holy
Or deny his majesty.

Those who rose against their sovereign
Now before his armies flee,
Recognize their guilt and treason
When pure holiness they see.
Yet He runs to those who trusted
Holds them in a king’s embrace.
He who wields the sword of justice
Reaches out the hand of grace.

How is it that the eternal,
Infinite and great I Am
Could be bound within a body,
Gentle sacrificial Lamb?
Can infinity and weakness
In one soul be intertwined?
Why would He who spins the planets
Reach to touch my shadowed mind?

To the void His voice cried out once;
Every word He spoke came true.
Still His word, though now incarnate,
Sounds forth, making things anew.
He from Heaven to Earth descended
Us from Earth to Heaven to raise;
By His brokenness He mended
Souls who now adore and praise.

My Plans

I'd like to give all of you a better idea of what to expect from this blog.  Actually, first, I'd like to apologize for starting it up with a flurry of activity and then not touching it for two weeks.  I have one word to offer in my defense: Finals.

Now that I'm (almost) done with the semester, I'll definitely have a bit more time.  I think when school starts again I'll try to post once a week, but until then, I'll be posting more often, so check back every few days.  Some of the posts will be commentaries about Christianity, philosophy, and how those ideas relate to everyday life, like the posts I've done so far.  I also plan to post some poetry and hymns I've written.  I'll also include information about Transforming Light, a book of poetry I'm self-publishing, which should be available later this week.  And lastly, I'll probably write a little about hymns that mean a lot to me.  I think many people sing these songs without thinking about the words, but since I started writing poetry of my own, I've come to a deeper appreciation of some earlier hymns, which I'd like to share with you.  And, of course, I'll share links to anything cool that I find on the internet.  If you have questions, or things you'd like to see me comment on, feel free to post a comment.  I'm always looking for suggestions on what to write about.