On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh.
Awake and harken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings!

Then cleansed be every life from sin:
make straight the way for God within,
and let us all our hearts prepare
for Christ to come and enter there.

We hail you as our Savior, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward.
Without your grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.

Stretch forth your hand, our health restore,
and make us rise to fall no more.
O let your face upon us shine
and fill the world with love divine.

All praise to you, eternal Son,
whose advent has our freedom won,
whom with the Father we adore,
and Holy Spirit, evermore.

Charles Coffin


An excellent choice for the “John the Baptist” Sundays in Advent, this hymn was written in the early 18th century by Charles Coffin, Catholic rector of the University of Paris. The lyrics were originally composed in Latin.

For those interested such things, elements in the Catholic Church at the time suspected Coffin of belonging to a heretical movement known as Jansenism. The Jansenist controversy  mirrored some of the same theological issues in dispute between Calvinists and Arminians in the Reformed branch of Protestantism. Issues included free will and the power of grace, the human ability to keep God’s commands, and the scope of Christ’s redemptive act. The controversy persisted for decades in France, where it was as much a  matter of popular piety as it was one of theology.

Coffin resisted complying with papal decrees on the Jansenist controversy, and his enemies saw Jansenist themes in his hymns.  At his death, the church denied Coffin last rights because he could not produce documentation proving that he had rejected Jansenism. Riots ensued.

Jansenist or not – Coffin’s hymn is a beautiful expression of Christian truth, one which this Wesleyan-Arminian can fully affirm.

Charles Wesley Hymn for Advent

Lo! He comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of His train.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
God appears on earth to reign.

Ev’ry eye shall now behold Him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at naught and sold Him,
pierced, and nailed Him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.

Every island, sea, and mountain,
heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
all who hate Him must, confounded,
hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment, come away!

Now redemption, long expected,
see in solemn pomp appear!
And His saints, by men rejected,
coming with Him in the air.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
See the day of God appear!

Yea, amen! Let all adore Thee,
high on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the pow’r and glory,
claim the kingdom for Thine own:
O come quickly, O come quickly,
Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!

Phos Hilaron, Gladsome Light

Phos Hilaron is probably the oldest Christian hymn still in use. The song accompanied the lighting of the lamps in the evening. In the 4th century, Basil the Great wrote that he loved the hymn and spoke of it as if it had been long in use. It is still use during vesper services in Byzantine Rite of the Orthodox church, and English translation appear in the Evening Prayers of Lutheran and Anglican liturgies.

***

Joyous light of glory of the immortal Father,
Heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ,
We have come to the setting of the Sun
And we look to the evening light.
We sing to God, the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy of being praised with pure voices forever.
O Son of God, O Giver of Light,
The universe proclaims your glory.

— Evening Prayer, Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978

***

O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

— Evening Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, 1979

O gladsome light,
pure brightness of the ever-living Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing praises to God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

— Evening Prayer, Anglican Church in North America, 2013

In the modern era we are surrounded  by light, even at night.  We forget how dark and dangerous the night seemed in the age before electricity. For Christians, the lighting of the lamps not only marked a significant moment in the rhythm of their daily lives, it also pointed them to the one who declared himself to be the light of the world.

Of the two English translations, I think “hilaron” is probably closer to “joyous” than to “gracious”. It’s from the same root as the English word “hilarious” and generally means “cheerful” or “merry”. In this instance, I think, “phos hilaron” means something like “the light that brings a smile to your face” or “the light that warms your heart”.

Here is the Greek text.

Φῶς ἱλαρὸν ἁγίας δόξης, ἀθανάτου Πατρός, οὐρανίου, ἁγίου, μάκαρος, Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, ἐλθόντες ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλίου δύσιν, ἰδόντες φῶς ἑσπερινόν, ὑμνοῦμεν Πατέρα, Υἱόν, καὶ ἅγιον Πνεῦμα Θεόν. Ἄξιόν σε ἐν πᾶσι καιροῖς, ὑμνεῖσθαι φωναῖς αἰσίαις, Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ζωὴν ὁ διδούς, Διὸ ὁ κόσμος σὲ δοξάζει.

And then there’s the Marty Haugen version in the Holden Evening Prayer. Love the tune. Prefer the ancient words.

Now Thank We all our God in the Thirty Years War

Lutheran pastor Martin Rinkart wrote one of my favorite hymns during the ravages of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, 
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore; 
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Continue reading “Now Thank We all our God in the Thirty Years War”