Christmas 5: Heaven’s Eternal Christmas

Puer-natus-1553-lossius-melancthon-descantToday’s reading tells the story of Jesus being presented to Simeon, the faithful follower of God who had waited in expectation of the “consolation of Israel” for all of his life and could now be “dismissed in peace”.

In keeping with this theme of “consolation” – a favourite of mine at this blog! – today’s poem is a translation of an old hymn with an interesting history. Originally the Latin hymn “Puer Natus in Bethlehem”, it got a new life in the nineteenth century thanks to another favourite of mine, the mutton-chopped pastor and poet N.F.S. Grundtvig, who translated it to make the popular Danish Christmas song, “Et barn er født i Bethlehem” (“A baby is born in Bethlehem”). Today I’m adding another layer to that translation history, with my translation of the first six verses of Grundtvig’s hymn. You can also listen to a demo recording of the song set to my own tune – not an amazing recording, sorry, but it should give you an idea of how to sing it. I’ve also repeated the first verse at the end, this time in Danish, to show how the meter works in each language. May you rejoice in the consolation of not just Israel but all the world this Christmas.

A Baby’s Born in Bethlehem

A baby’s born in Bethlehem,
So rejoice, Jerusalem.
Alleluia, alleluia…

A lowly virgin, hidden, poor,
Delivers heaven’s Son, the Lord.
Alleluia, alleluia…

In a crib they laid him down,
The angels sang a joyful sound.
Alleluia, alleluia…

And from the east, wise men sacrificed
Gold, frankincense and myrrh refined.
Alleluia, alleluia…

And now are all our trials gone,
For on this day our saviour’s born.
Alleluia, alleluia…

So God’s people, now restored, can praise
In heaven’s eternal Christmas day.
Alleluia, alleluia…

In Translation: Restless Heart/Urolige Hjerte

grundtvig.dk
Herre, du har skabt os til dig, og vort hjerte er uroligt, indtil det finder hvile hos dig.
Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
(St Augustine, Confessions)

When I first started learning Danish last year and was looking for anything to help me, I stumbled across an eerily beautiful song called “Urolige Hjerte” by Kloster. Though all I could tell you about the song at the time was that it had something to do with hearts, I was drawn to the song from the start, finding it strangely comforting. Then I learnt that the song was a hymn by 19th-century Danish pastor, poet and educational philosopher N.F.S. Grundtvig. I’ve since written about Grundtvig on this blog and have had a wild stab at some translation of another of his texts. But all this time I’ve been working away at translating “Urolige Hjerte” into English, finding no other full translation of it anywhere online (only this paraphrase, which was still very helpful for some of Grundtvig’s trickier expressions.)

Thanks go to Mikael Rahbæk Andreasen of Kloster, both for first introducing me to this hymn and for giving generous help and guidance in the translation.

Restless Heart (Urolige Hjerte) – N.F.S. Grundtvig

Restless heart, what ails you?
What makes you feel so much pain?
Is He not your very good Father,
Who over everything reigns?
Does He not know your every thought?
Has He not counted the hairs on your head?
Has not He chosen you to be
His very closest friend?

And have you not that precious gift,
That rare, cherished hope?
Or don’t you remember your baptism waters,
And the words that Jesus spoke?
Words that only fit the ones
Who enter God’s heaven, true?
Weren’t the words He spoke to you,
“Peace be with you”?

What then, my soul, can harm you
When you’ve the peace of God?
God’s angels are all joyful,
Forever, on and on.
Will you not join the heavenly shout?
She holds wide the door, God’s loveliest bride.
Won’t you, joyful, come inside,
Embraced by their, “Welcome from God”?

The heavenly bride now enters;
She firmly takes her hold,
With all the bold ones, the warriors,
The ones who strive for their God.
Where the bride has her house, there God’s angels will be.
Where she dwells in stillness, there all worries will end.
There lives all our hope,
And our faith is firmly held.

Restless heart, hold fast:
Let the peace of God enclose you.
Soon all of our pain will dull
And fade away from view.
God’s peace is like a much-prized queen;
Who binds to her is truly wise,
And where she sits upon her throne
Is God’s paradise.

Welcome, God’s Year

For many, 2016 will be a year that few will miss or wish to repeat. It was the year of Brexit and Trump, of many beloved public figures dying, and seemingly also a year of much personal hardship for many people. It was certainly the case for my wife and I this year. Yet I’m determined not to go down the path of declaring it an annus horribilis – not because I enjoyed the year, not because I would like to live it again, but because God’s grace is never absent, in any year, and His mercies are found everywhere.

Less significantly, 2016 was the year that I began to learn Danish. And while this might seem like nothing more than a curious idea of what constitutes a fun hobby, it meant that I was introduced to the poetry and hymns of the 19th century Danish pastor and writer N.F.S. Grundtvig – first via the music of Danish “pastoral folk band” Kloster (listen to their album “Ni Salmer Og En Aftensang” for some beautiful versions of hymns by Grundtvig and others, including Hans Christian Anderson). And, as I have been learning the language, I have been attempting also to translate some of Grundtvig’s lyrics into English.

Here, as a somewhat shoddy offering for the new year, is my rendering of his hymn, “Vær velkommen, Herrens år” (literally “Be welcome, the Lord’s Year”, original Danish text available here). It’s technically an Advent hymn, but looks at Advent as the beginning of the liturgical year, and charts how God’s grace is seen at every key moment of the Church Year. May it be something of a reminder to us that God is never absent from a  year and that no year can be an annus horribilis when we trace the workings of His grace through each day.

Welcome, God’s year,
And be welcome here.
On Christmas night, when the Lord was born,
A light came forth at the darkest dawn,
So welcome, new year. Welcome here.

Welcome, God’s year,
And be welcome here.
On Easter Morning, when the Lord was raised,
The Tree of Life took root in the grave,
So welcome, new year. Welcome here.

Welcome, God’s year,
And be welcome here.
On Pentecost Day, when God’s Spirit came down to us,
Then down came His power, into our weaknesses,
So welcome, new year. Welcome here.

Welcome, God’s year,
And be welcome here.
This now is God’s year, filled up with God’s favour,
New gladness is waiting in each day of God here,
So welcome, new year. Welcome here.