Posted by: rcottrill | February 1, 2017

All Through the Night

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Words: John Ceiriog Hughes (b. Sept. 25, 1832; d. Apr. 23, 1887)
Music: from a 1784 book called Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards, complied by Edward Jones (b. Mar. ___, 1752; d. Apr. ___, 1824)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)
Hymnary.org

Note: All Through the Night (in Welsh, Ar Hyd y Nos), with the tune from Jones’s book, has been translated into English a number of times. I have combined the words of two versions below, capitalizing “Child,” and the related pronouns, because I’m looking at it as a Christmas carol. Hymnary.org has different lyrics, treating the song simply as a hymn.

A lullaby, or cradle song, is one used to quiet a baby and encourage sleep. The word itself, from about five centuries ago, says it: “lull,” meaning quiet or calm, and “by,” which is likely short for by by, or goodby.

A now famous one was first published in 1765, and the lyrics seem oddly scary and possibly dangerous, if intended to calm an infant.

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

(Good thing the baby won’t understand the words!)

There are various theories about the origin of this strange song. Possibly it was a disguised reference to the overthrow of Catholic James II of England, and the ascension to the throne of Protestant William III. The 1765 version appeared with this footnote:

“This may serve as a warning to the Proud and Ambitious, who climb so high that they generally fall at last.”

When we turn to the Scriptures, to my knowledge there’s no mother found singing a cradle song over her baby. That, of course, doesn’t mean it never happened. Quite likely it often did. But, strangely enough, the closest thing to a lullaby will be sung by God Himself.

The prophet Zephaniah speaks of a future time when Israel, under her Messiah, will be restored and live in peace and prosperity. When “the Lord has taken away your judgments, He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall see disaster no more” (Zeph. 3:15). Then…

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (vs. 17).

But let’s consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, for a moment. Clearly Catholics make somewhat more of her than Protestants do. And, likely as a reaction to the Catholic veneration of Mary, Protestants often swing the pendulum too far in the other direction and almost ignore her. This is most surely wrong.

What a wonderful young woman she was! Likely born around 20 BC, the last we see of her, in AD 30, Mary is gathered with other believers after Christ’s ascension, awaiting the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the New Testament church (Acts 1:12-14). But it is in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus that we learn most about her.

A young peasant girl, living in Nazareth, she was visited one day by the angel Gabriel, who announced that she was to give birth to the Messiah of Israel (Lk. 1:26-27, 31-33). When she protested that she was a virgin (vs. 34), Gabriel explained that the conception would be miraculous, a unique work of the Spirit of God (vs. 35).

With amazing faith, Mary accepted God’s plan for her (vs. 38). Later, she burst into an inspired expression of praise. Sometimes called The Magnificat, after the opening word in the Latin translation, Magnificat anima mea Dominum, it begins:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Lk. 1:46-49).

When the Baby was born, and laid in a manger in Bethlehem (Lk. 2:7), it is not impossible to think of Mary singing a quiet cradle song to Him. As noted above, John Hughes’s song is often treated as a Christmas carol. Though far too late to qualify as Mary’s lullaby, it does fit the mood.

1) Sleep my Child and peace attend Thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send Thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and vale in slumber steeping,
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night.

2) Angels watching ever round Thee
All through the night
In Thy slumbers close surround Thee
All through the night
They will of all fears disarm Thee,
No forebodings should alarm Thee,
They will let no peril harm Thee
All through the night.

Questions:
1) Our mental images of the manger scene are strongly influenced by carols, and Christmas card artwork. It may have been somewhat different. Imagine you were one of the shepherds. What do you think it was like, when you came to see what had happened?

2) Why is it significant that Jesus was born in such poor circumstances, rather than in a palace in Jerusalem, as the wise men expected of one they called a king (Matt. 2:1-2)?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)
Hymnary.org


Responses

  1. how do I SUBSCRIBE TO RECEIVE POSTINGS IN MY E-MAIL?

    • Thanks for your question. Sorry to be so long getting back to you, but I had to check with WordPress. In some cases, I can’t see exactly, on my own computer, what others see. But there should be a “Follow” button in the right-hand sidebar, and a place to put your e-mail address. If you give your address, and click “Follow” you should receive three articles a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)–the latest ones that are posted. Let me know if it doesn’t work, and I’ll check with WordPress again.


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