Another year begins, and today we have a special piece of music to see in the new year: Bach’s Cantata for New Year’s Day, Part IV of his spectacular Christmas Oratorio. This cantata takes as its theme the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, but as often happens with Bach the story is explored through a number of voices who apply the story as aptly to our hearts today as for Bach’s hearers in his day. You can read the text and its translation here.
Order my beginning: For New Year’s Day
When they took him, on the eighth day,
as required by law,
with their offering of pigeons
(an allowance for the poor),
there was nothing about them
to startle the eye,
the custom being usual,
his name ordinary.
Yet the many other Yeshuas
in Bethlehem alone
were named looking backwards,
to a hero long gone.
This child looked forward.
His saving acts stood
in the imminent future,
with an immanent God.
No wonder the marvel,
the gathering throng,
the prophecies spoken,
the singing of songs,
and me on the sidelines,
praising and yet
reluctant to settle,
still hedging my bets.
Does salvation start here?
No, it’s as ancient as Him,
but it reignites dulled hearts
and lights growing dim.
O order my days here,
my thoughts and my sight.
My years will be nothing
save He sets them right.
…everything that is illuminated becomes a light…
Too dark, Leonard.
Just after Solstice, the days still short,
the dark surprised me in its early arrival,
and your first song grabbed me
with its midnight-pitch grip,
and Isaac bound by demons,
crying, Here I am, Lord.
These days are dark enough; I
turned from you to Bach,
where even wintry Leipzig
could sing with counterpoint.
I did not want it darker. The darkness always gapes
and I have fought for life to prise
myself out from its grip.
A cry of what? Of pain?
I cry, I cry, out to the Light
to banish dark again.
Hold tight. Hold me tight:
what coverings I have sought,
cannot disguise my nakedness.
My shame burns garments – yet
You clothe in righteousness.
Hold me tight; You are enough,
yet I am afraid, and turn
to fig-leaves when rightly I should
bathe myself in You.
O Lamb, my joy, my garment of blood,
O hold me tight.
In praises, bow.
The dust heap is not your final home, yet He is king
and though a king He also bowed
and, humble, became dust.
So wait in dust, and bow.
Such humble, unaffected fun befits the heirs
of one who danced the stars alight –
again! again! – in child’s constant joy.
Breathing into soil, He cherished soil;
rejoice; do not forget.
Do not forget His downward climb,
or His eyes turned in heavenward tears –
praise for truth revealed to babes;
anguish at the cup outstretched;
and always, Not my will but yours.
Bow at His feet and sing.
Bach Cantata, BWV 47 – 1.Chorus – Wer sich selbst erhöhet
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth!…Tell of his salvation from day to day. (Psalm 96:1, 2b)
Old songs rot in dead ears;
Old ruts of thought declare: That was not me I will try harder I had no choice That’s just the person that I am…
To fudge is human; to change is divine.
The former things are dying;
Listen to this newest song,
The freshest song to sound in years:
All your dead deeds will crumble, fade,
yet there’s a God who gladly saves
and in the stars’ ancient dust He calls forth light…
Turn; sing to Him from your dust heap
your morning Son,
your great Ancient of Days…
J.S. Bach: Motet BWV 225 ‘Singet dem Herrn’ – Vocalconsort Berlin
” And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?'” (Luke 24:25-26)
Slow to understand, the day turns to night.
Light dwindles, the length of days shortens;
have we time to hear His words?
Walk. The road is long, but your companion
stays as sun retreats and understanding hides.
Slow to understand, we turn:
we slow our hearts to hear.
J. S. Bach – Cantata “Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden”