A Second-Person Translation*
We bless you, Adonai, God of Israel,
for you have come to visit us
and ransom us from bondage.
You have brought forth a strong Deliverer
in the house of your child, David.
This is what your prophets, holy ones of ancient times, announced:
Deliverance from enemies
and from the hand of all who continually hate us;
mercy among our ancestors,
and your remembrance of your holy covenant.
This is the solemn oath you swore to our ancestor, Abraham,
to make us unafraid,
to rescue us from the hand of enemies,
and to serve before you in holiness and righteousness
all the days of our lives.
And this, my little child, shall be called prophet of the Most High,
for he shall go before you, Adonai,
to pre-pare your pathways.
He will make your people know your deliverance
by the forgiveness of their sins.
Through your merciful compassions, our God,
you will bring the dawn from on high to visit us,
to shine upon those kept in dungeons and the shadows of death
and to guide our feet into the pathway of peace.
*Notes on the Translation:
This translation "transfers the persons" (second and third) of the original Greek to help make clear in English that the entire canticle is addressed to God. I have done this for two reasons. First, in Hebrew and Mediterranean worship generally, it was quite common to offer "third person praise" where the one being praised might be considered too holy or lofty to address directly, or where a particular worship ritual did not involve the people (or the priests) "facing" God directly (for example, facing the altar in temple worship). What is important to keep in mind, though, is these cultures understood their "third person praise" to be a way of talking to God rather than talking about God. In English and other Northern language cultures, we have inherited the tradition of "third person praise" in hymnody and to some degree in ritual, but we are increasingly likely not to interpret it as praise "to" God. So by recasting the Song of Zechariah in this way, I hope, first of all, to help us join the early church in using it to offer our praise to God. Second, as an added benefit of this recasting, male language for God is completely avoided. Where "he" appears in this translation, it refers to John the Baptist, who was male.
One additional note may be helpful. Rather than reproduce the Greek exactly, I have tried to produce an English "hymnification" of this Greek hymn. Greek hymnody relied on meter primarily. English, however, relies more on word order and, to a certain degree, formatting. Both also rely on parallelism to a certain degree. This translation is an effort to take all of that into consideration to render an English "free verse" hymn that "does" what the original Greek hymn was doing, but in a more English way.
I have also developed fuller translation notes on each verse of the hymn. If you are interested, you may contact me at [email protected].
How to Use the Pointing for Chanting
You will note throughout the text places where a syllable, several syllables, or a word or two are underlined. This corresponds to the use of "red dots" in the Psalter of The United Methodist Hymnal (1989). The underlines here, like the red dots there, indicate where the first of the "following tones" is to be sung. For fuller instructions in "United Methodist Chant" and a selection of five chant tones, see UMH 736-737.