For the next several weeks, I’ll be going through some of my favorite hymns in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) hymnal, which we predominantly use in selecting our music for worship. We all have our own reasons as to why specific songs connect with us, whether it be in church buildings or during rush-hour traffic in our cars or inside concert halls or wherever else. For some, it’s about the lyrics. For others, it’s about the rhythm. In certain instances, it’s about where we were and who we were with, when we first heard it or sung along. When it comes to worship, the music is meant to further reel us into God’s embrace while also giving us a holy nudge to go follow our Risen Lord out into the world.
I recognize my life experience in general is not quite as lengthy as many in our collective church family, and that carries over to music. Although I have my Lutheran grandparents’ copies of the black (although it’s more of a faded brown by now) American Lutheran Hymnal (c. 1930) and the red Service Book and Hymnal (c. 1958), most of my growing up years in the church was with the green Lutheran Book of Worship (c. 1978) and our current cranberry (I guess?) Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal (c. 2006). I suppose that since during my deeper-faith-dive years, came a brand new hymnal, I’ve grown more attached to newer song texts and musical rhythms (new to me, at least). So, although I grew up with my fair share of “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “I Love to Tell the Story,” others hit my soul a little more. No matter which ones we cling to, regardless of the reasons, hopefully we can find a few that further reel us into God’s embrace and give us a holy nudge to share such “amazing grace” with others.
With that in mind, recently, my favorite Advent hymn has become “All Earth is Hopeful” (ELW 266). I have a feeling it has to do with the timing when this song gets turned to during our church calendar year. The Advent season emerges when the nights are getting longer, when stress levels seem to be at their peak with the longest to-do lists imaginable, when all-around depression is at its worst for far too many children of God. And yet, “All Earth is Hopeful,” so Alberto Taulé, the hymn’s composer, would have us believe (it’s important to point out that many church hymns were originally crafted in a different language that could be even more powerful than our English translations). And yes, something about the music, no matter how dismal winter may be, no matter how immense the stress; something about the music convinces me every time. And the words drive it home:
All earth is hopeful, the Savior comes at last!
Furrows lie open for God's creative task:
this, the labor of people who struggle to see
how God’s truth and justice set ev’rybody free.
This is one of those hymns that does its part in helping us feel God’s embrace for sure: to somehow instill hope even amidst chilling temperatures and the longest nights and easing our to-do list obsessions. But, the music’s rhythm has a way of making us move forward, to be caught up in the holy momentum not just of Advent, but God’s eternal drive: “how God’s truth and justice set ev’rybody free.” And so, we cannot help ourselves, but join in God’s ultimate freedom song. Amen (so let it be)!