Christmas, Day 2

LOOK: Jesus, Light of the World by Wayne Forte

Forte, Wayne_Jesus, Light of the World
Wayne Forte (Filipino American, 1950–), Jesus, Light of the World, 2009. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 30 × 24 in.

LISTEN: “Jesus, Light of the World” | Words by Charles Wesley (stanzas), 1739, and George D. Elderkin (refrain), 1890 | Music by George D. Elderkin, 1890 | Performed by Isaac Cates and Ordained on Carol of the Bells, 2014 (soloists: Margaret Rainey and Kami Woodard)

Hark! the herald angels sing.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Glory to the newborn King,
Jesus, the light of the world.

We’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.
Oh, shine all around us by day and by night.
Jesus, the light of the world.

Joyful, all you nations, rise.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Join the triumph of the skies.
Jesus, the light of the world.

Christ, by highest heav’n adored.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Jesus, the light of the world.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Jesus, the light of the world.

In 1890 Chicago publisher George D. Elderkin adapted Charles Wesley’s beloved Christmas hymn text “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” using the first two lines of Wesley’s stanzas 1, 2, 3, and 5 and adding a refrain that’s based on a Fanny Crosby text from 1880. For the music, he wrote a gospel waltz. Although Elderkin was not African American, this hymn has become especially well loved in Black churches. Read a more detailed history of the hymn’s composition at the UMC Discipleship website.  

Isaac Cates’s 2014 arrangement and recording is my favorite. Cates is a gospel vocalist, arranger, and pianist who performs with his choir, Ordained.

Celtic manuscript illumination of Christ in Gethsemane

I wrote today’s visual meditation for ArtWay, on one of the full-page miniatures in the ninth-century Book of Kells from Ireland: http://www.artway.eu/content.php?id=2063&lang=en&action=show.

Christ on the Mount of Olives (Book of Kells)
Christ on the Mount of Olives, from the Book of Kells (fol. 114v), early 9th century.

The framed lunette above Christ’s head contains a Latin inscription of Matthew 26:30: Et hymo dicto exierunt in montem Oliveti (“After a hymn had been said they left for Mount Olivet”). But the artist gives us a very atypical depiction of that scene, one that cross-references the Old Testament story of Israel’s battle against the Amalekites—in particular, the figures Aaron, Moses, and Hur. Click on the link above to learn more.

As I prepared commentary on the painting, meditating on its significance, I thought of Wayne Forte’s Community of Prayer—a beautiful image that, like the one from Kells, invokes an ancient battle story as a metaphor for bearing one another up in prayer.

Community of Prayer by Wayne Forte
Wayne Forte (American, 1950–), Community of Prayer, 2009. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 × 30 in.

(This is a subject Forte has turned to often. See on his website, for example, And the Battle Was Won; Arms of Prayer; Exodus 17:12 MedallionMoses [Sun Radiating]; Moses on a Rock; Moses with Staff; Moses, Aaron, and Hur; Succour; and Until the Sun Set.)