AUTHOR: Charles Wesley, 1707-88
COMPOSER: Rowland Prichard, 1811-87
SOURCE: United Methodist Hymnal (1989), no. 196
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 42:1-4; Matthew 12:17-21; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 1:46b-55; Luke 1:68-79
TOPIC: Advent, Messiah, freedom, hope, desire, joy
It is almost as customary to sing this hymn on the first Sunday of Advent as it is to sing "Silent Night" on Christmas Eve, "O Come, All Ye Faithful" on Christmas Day, and "Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today" on Easter Sunday. And no wonder -- in two short stanzas it is a veritable encyclopedia of Advent themes, setting the stage for worship, study, meditation, singing and sermons for the next four weeks of Advent. The hymn would make a marvelous framework around which to build a sermon series, a class lesson, a small-group study or weekly devotions and meditation for the entire season of Advent.
Charles Wesley composed this text in 1744 for the publication of the Wesley hymnal, Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord, a publication that was reprinted twenty times during the Wesleys' lifetimes. It first appeared in our official USA hymnals in the 1847 Methodist Hymnal. It was not included in the British Methodist Hymnal until 1876.
Rowland Prichard was an amateur precentor who composed and published a number of tunes in Welsh periodicals. (Note: A precentor is one who facilitates worship, the word derived from the more familiar word, cantor, meaning "the one who sings before" or "first singer." In Britain, a precentor directs the music and choral services in a cathedral or in a monastery.) In the Welsh language, hyfrydol, pronounced hoo-froo'-dle, literally means pleasant and melodious. Prichard composed the tune for his 1844 songbook, Cyfaill y Cantorion (The Singer's Friend), a Welsh collection published "for the use of the Sunday Schools, to wean them from 'empty and defiling songs' to those that are devotional and moral." (Alan Luff, Welsh Hymns and Their Tunes,p. 177). The tune first entered our official USA hymnals in the 1935 Methodist Hymnal.
In stanza one, Wesley sets out the main themes of the Christian liturgical season of Advent, all related to the long-held Jewish expectation for the Messiah's coming:
- long-expected, ms. 2-3
- Messiah will bring freedom, ms. 5-8
- release from fears and sins, ms. 9-12
- promised rest, ms. 15
- strengthening of Israel, ms. 17-18
- Israel's consolation, ms. 19-20
- hope of the world, ms. 21-23
- desire of the nations, ms. 25-28
- joy of longing heart, ms. 29-32
Stanza two translates Hebrew messianic expectation into Christian fulfillment:
- Messiah brings deliverance, ms. 3- 4
- Messiah as child and King, ms. 6- 8
- establish the reign of God by ruling in our lives, ms. 9-16
- and eternally ruling in our hearts, ms. 17-24
- it is by God's grace and Jesus' merit and not ourselves that we are saved, ms. 25-32
Compare these themes to those of "Canticle of Simeon" (Nunc Dimittis), Luke 2:29-32, in which Simeon, a "righteous and devout" man living in Jerusalem at the time of the birth of Jesus, proclaims that Jewish Messianic hope; i.e., the consolation and redemption of Israel, has been fulfilled in the child Jesus.
- Lord, now let your servant go in peace;
- your word has been fulfilled;
- my own eyes have seen the salvation
- which you have prepared in the presence of all people,
- a light to reveal you to the nations
- and the glory of your people Israel.
The HYFRYDOL tune is in 87.87D meter with an AABC structure. One of the remarkable features of this tune is the fact that its quite limited range serves the text well, while not calling attention to itself. With the exception of a single note in the climax at the end, the entire tune is contained within the interval of only a fifth.
There is a dignity and strength about HYFRYDOL with its arch forms, short melodic sequences, and its measured tempo that consists of mostly quarter notes. One can even sense a quality of regal majesty in it as it carries these words about the coming Messiah. Sometimes HYFRYDOL is used with another familiar Wesley text, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling."
- Luff, Alan, Welsh Hymns and Their Tunes, p. 177
- Wikipedia, "Precentor"
- Young, Carlton. Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal.