Posted by: rcottrill | November 19, 2014

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

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Words: Traditional Polish carol found in Spiewniczek Piesni Koscielne; English paraphrase by Edith Margaret Gellibrand Reed (b. Mar. 31, 1885; d. June 4, 1933)
Music: W Zlobie Lezy (In Manger Lying) origin unknown, arranged by Edith Reed

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Note: Edith Reed was an organist, and the editor of a number of music publications. She lived an unusually active and athletic life in England, hiking, sailing, swimming, camping. (She walked all the way around most of the coastline of England and Wales!)

In 1921, in Music and Youth, she gave us Infant Holy, Infant Lowly. This tender and beautiful carol began as a Polish song of unknown origin called W Zlobie Lezy (meaning In Manger Lying). It may date from the thirteenth or fourteenth century, though apparently it wasn’t published until 1908. The original Polish version–for those who can read it–says:

W żłobie leży! Któż pobieży
Kolędować małemu
Jezusowi Chrystusowi
Dziś nam narodzonemu?
Pastuszkowie przybywajcie
Jemu wdzięcznie przygrywajcie
Jako Panu naszemu.

My zaś sami z piosneczkami
Za wami pospieszymy
A tak Tego Maleńkiego
Niech wszyscy zobaczymy
Jak ubogo narodzony
Płacze w stajni położony
Więc go dziś ucieszymy.

The word “crescendo” comes from the Latin word for grow. In music, it describes a steady increase in the volume of a particular selection. This is intended to stir a growing excitement in listeners, and an anticipation of the coming climax.

Something similar happened in Bible prophecy with regard to the coming of Christ. In Genesis 3:15 we get the first hint of the coming One who would crush Satan under His heel. In Genesis 12:3 we learn that the whole human family would be blessed through the Seed of Abraham, a promise that is later explained to refer to Christ (Gal. 3:16). As time went on, excitement grew. It was through the tribe of Judah in Israel that He was to come (Gen. 49:10), though His coming was still far off (Num. 24:17).

Later a promise to David indicated Christ would come from his family (II Sam. 7:16; cf. Matt. 1:1). Still later, the birthplace of the coming One was then identified as Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). His deity and coming reign were also declared (Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7). The role of John the Baptist as the forerunner, the announcer of Christ’s coming was revealed also (Mal. 3:1; cf. Matt. 11:10).

All of these (and many more) pronouncements must surely have stirred in the people of God a growing excitement and an anticipation of what God was going to do. Then, finally, the day came, and we have the climactic announcement of the angels:

“‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Lk. 2:10-14).

Though it is brief, the carol Infant Holy, Infant Lowly creates a kind of crescendo effect in the last two lines of each stanza. The short phrases and rising pitch in line three in each case lead us to the thrilling and joyful declaration of the last lines: “Christ the Babe is Lord of all,” and “Christ the Babe was born for you.”

CH-1) Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swiftly winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing:
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

CH-2) Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the Babe was born for you.

1) What are the most exciting things about the Christmas season for you?

2) Do you (or would you) use this simple carol in your church?



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