The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston
Throughout Advent and Christmas, we are celebrating the poetry of the season by featuring selected holiday verse, along with Scripture, during worship. Read more about the Advent sermon series here.
Sermon: "The Electro-Who-Cardio-Shnoox"
Texts: Isaiah 35:1-10
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
La Nativité du Seigneur (“The Nativity of the Lord”) III. Desseins éternels (“Eternal Designs”
Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992)
Christ the Appletree • Stanford Scriven (b. 1988), Text: Joshua Smith (1760–1795)
A Babe is Born • William Mathias (1934–1992), Text: Anonymous, 15th century
La Nativité du Seigneur (“The Nativity of the Lord”) IX. Dieu parmi nous (“God Among Us”)
The setting of Christ the Appletree sung as the Anthem this morning was composed by the young American composer Stanford Scriven. The piece received its premiere by the St. Olaf Choir in 2009 at the St. Olaf Christmas Festival. The musical elements of the piece are rooted in the wonderfully simple spirit of the text, in which the author depicts Christ in a familiar light—that of the unwavering apple tree, a symbol of strength and abundant life. Utilizing elements commonly found in the Early American folk canon, this setting beautifully amplifies the poetís original intent without clouding its simple yet elegant message. Scriven grew up in Oregon and completed a bachelor of music degree at St. Olaf Choir School.
The organ music comes from Olivier Messiaenís monumental suite of nine Christmas meditations for organ entitled La Nativite du Seigneur ("The Nativity of the Lord"). Messiaen was one of the most important composers of the 20th century, and his sizable output for organ is among the most significant contributions to that repertoire since J.S. Bach. By employing many of his own compositional innovations (such as his famous modes of limited transposition, non-retrogradable rhythms and the incorporation of notated birdsong), Messiaen creates a distinctive and unique musical world, rife with symbols alluding to his mystical Christian faith.
Dieu Parmi Nous ("God Among Us"), the final movement of the suite, is a brilliant musical depiction of Christ descending into the chaos and busyness of 20th-century urban life. The piece opens with a striking descending figure, the rhythms and pitches of which serve as the material to be developed throughout the rest of the piece. After a brief oasis of calm, chaos ensues, including an extended section that creates a musical soundscape of the busy streets of Paris, complete with honking car horns! The chaos is interrupted by the descending figure introduced at the beginning, but this time it sounds as an ascending fanfare on the organís loudest reed stops. This fanfare serves to introduce one of the greatest toccatas ever written for organ in the French style, with rhythmic chords atop a dramatic statement of the descending Christ figure repeated in the pedals. After another brief episode of chaos, the toccata resumes and leads dramatically to a fascinating progression of chords that finally comes to rest in E major: Christ has arrived—harmony is restored!