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Christmas in Ritual and Tradition

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #15 on: December 25, 2008, 10:54:00 pm »

“Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ,


Dass du Mensch geboren bist


Von einer Jungfrau, das ist wahr,


Des freuet sich der Engel Schar.


Kyrieleis!


Des ew'gen Vaters einig Kind


Jetzt man in der Krippe find't,


In unser armes Fleisch und Blut


Verkleidet sich das ewig Gut.


Kyrieleis!p. 73


Den aller Weltkreis nie beschloss,


Der lieget in Marie'n Schoss;


Er ist ein Kindlein worden klein,


Der alle Ding’ erhält allein.


Kyrieleis! ” 30 3-31


The first stanza alone is mediaeval, the remaining six of the hymn are Luther's.

The Christmas hymns of Paul Gerhardt, the seventeenth-century Berlin pastor, stand next to Luther's. They are more subjective, more finished, less direct and forcible. Lacking the finest qualities of poetry, they are nevertheless impressive by their dignity and heartiness. Made for music, the words alone hardly convey the full power of these hymns. They should be heard sung to the old chorales, massive, yet sweet, by the lusty voices of a German congregation. To English people they are probably best known through the verses introduced into the “Christmas Oratorio,” where the old airs are given new beauty by Bach's marvellous harmonies. The tone of devotion, one feels, in Gerhardt and Bach is the same, immeasurably greater as is the genius of the composer; in both there is a profound joy in the Redemption begun by the Nativity, a robust faith joined to a deep sense of the mystery of suffering, and a keen sympathy with childhood, a tender fondness for the Infant King.

p. 74 The finest perhaps of Gerhardt's hymns is the Advent “Wie soll ich dich empfangen?” (“How shall I fitly meet Thee?”), which comes early in the “Christmas Oratorio.” More closely connected with the Nativity, however, are the Weihnachtslieder, “Wir singen dir, Emanuel,” “O Jesu Christ, dein Kripplein ist,” “Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen,” “Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier,” and others. I give a few verses from the third:—

“Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen


Dieser Zeit,


Da für Freud


Alle Engel singen.


Hört, hört, wie mit vollen Choren


Alle Luft


Laute ruft:


Christus ist geboren.


*       *       *       *       *


Nun, er liegt in seiner Krippen,


Ruft zu sich


Mich und dich,


Spricht mit süssen Lippen:


Lasset fahrn, O lieben Brüder


Was euch quält,


Was euch fehlt;


Ich bring alles wieder.


*       *       *       *       *


Süsses Heil, lass dich umfangen;


Lass mich dir,


Meine Zier,


Unverrückt anhangen.


Du bist meines Lebens Leben;


Nun kann ich


Mich durch dich


Wohl zufrieden geben.” 31 3-33


p. 75 One more German Christmas hymn must be mentioned, Gerhard Tersteegen's “Jauchzet, ihr Himmel, frohlocket, ihr englischen Chöre.” Tersteegen represents one phase of the mystical and emotional reaction against the religious formalism and indifference of the eighteenth century. In the Lutheran Church the Pietists, though they never seceded, somewhat resembled the English Methodists; the Moravians formed a separate community, while from the “Reformed” or Calvinistic Church certain circles of spiritually-minded people, who drew inspiration from the mediaeval mystics and later writers like Böhme and Madame Guyon, gathered into more or less independent groups for religious intercourse. Of these last Tersteegen is a representative singer. Here are three verses from his best known Christmas hymn:—

“Jauchzet, ihr Himmel, frohlocket, ihr englischen Chöre,


Singet dem Herrn, dem Heiland der Menschen, zur Ehre:


Sehet doch da!


Gott will so freundlich und nah


Zu den Verlornen sich kehren.p. 76


König der Ehren, aus Liebe geworden zum Kinde,


Dem ich auch wieder mein Herz in der Liebe verbinde;


Du sollst es sein,


Den ich erwähle allein,


Ewig entsag’ ich der Sünde.


Treuer Immanuel, werd’ auch in mir neu geboren;


Komm doch, mein Heiland, und lass mich nicht länger verloren;


Wohne in mir,


Mach mich ganz eines mit dir,


Den du zum Leben erkoren.” 32 3-35
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