By N.F.S. GRUNDTVIG
(From his Christmas Day Sermon, December 25, 1843 Luke 2: 1-14)
All praise and honor be to You, our God and Father, for the joyful tidings! Indeed, all praise, honor and thanks be to You forever for the Christmas tidings to Your house on high, to more than angel-joy and gladness, to everlasting communion with Your only-begotten Son, the Beloved, in whom You find favor! All praise, honor and thanks be to You from the heart’s core for sending us the joyful tidings with the angel-host that sees Your face, hears with amazement Your magisterial voice, and accomplishes Your commission with joy! And for confirming Your Christmas tidings through Your only-begotten Son, who is in Your embrace, is God with You forever, but became human like us, born of a woman! And for sealing this in Our Lord Jesus’ name in the hearts of all believers through Your Holy Spirit, which searches Your depths, works through Your omnipotence, comforts with Your love, accompanies us with Your Light through the world’s confusion and death’s wilderness to the land of the living, to the home of peace, to the everlasting dwellings of gladness, Your house, our Father! You Who are in heaven!
“And you will sing as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice.” This is one of the many prophecies in Isaiah which received visible, heavenly fulfillment when God’s Son became human. According to the Gospel of the Day, it was fulfilled literally for the shepherds on the night God’s Son was born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. When they heard the multitude of the heavenly host singing “Glory be to God on high, and peace on earth, good will to all men,” the shepherds actually heard a night song to inaugurate a feast-day whereby a new festival was introduced to the world, the Christmas festival for the child born in Bethlehem…
Christianity is not a new Law but a Gospel, a joyful message from heaven. And this joyful message is that because we are wretched sinners and because the Law cannot quicken us and our righteousness cannot save us, a Savior is born who is Christ the Lord in the City of David, the Child of Bethlehem, the Prince of Christmas! He brings forgiveness of sins, God’s peace, and heavenly joy to all who believe in His name, the name of Jesus. To this name all knees shall bow in Heaven and earth and beneath the earth and all tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the honor of God the Father!
We must remember this with feeling, and have the heart to believe the glad tidings –– to believe in this Son of God and of the Virgin Mary, who was wrapped in cloth and laid in a manger –– and then again was wrapped in cloth and laid in the grave. But He rose in triumph from the dead and sits in glory at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and He will come in His Father’s glory to gather all His people to His Father’s house. If we have the heart to believe this, then we shall also learn that Christmas is still a children’s festival with angel-song and glad hearts, and that this is so for us to a much greater degree than for our forefathers; indeed it can be so for us almost to the same degree as for shepherds, in Bethlehem!
My friends, I am too old to take any pleasure in melodious words with no power or truth. But I know it is true and that God has the overflowing power to prove that what is impossible for humankind is possible, indeed is child’s play, for Him! So I purposely say that precisely here and now our Christmas joy can and will be so great among us as it has never been here or anywhere since the days of the Lord Himself and His Apostles!
This comes about because only now can the great light that was lit in the evening hour, the light of Christmas Eve, truly illuminate our hearts and eyes so that we see what we actually need, and what God has given us in His only begotten Son. He not only suffered and died and rose for us but can and will truly dwell and grow, walk and work, and be glorified and reign, in all His believers! Yes, indeed, only now, and with God’s help and through the Holy Spirit, can this great secret of God’s devotion, God’s revelation in the flesh, in the incarnation of the Son and the Word in the power of the Spirit, be revealed to us, to us and to our believing children. And it can grow all the more, so that our heavenly childlikeness will develop as the angel-song echoes for us and the glad heart is reborn within us.
Yes indeed, my friends, even as from experience we get to know the child’s faith and the child’s hope, the child’s eyes and the child’s heart in ourselves and others, so must we feel and confess that if childlikeness were free of childishness and could be united with youthful courage, adult power, and elderly wisdom, it would be a joy to live, and the glad heart would follow of its own accord. Nowhere else on earth has this feeling been deeper than in our part of the world, so it must still be found far more potently at the bottom of our hearts than anywhere else. This wonder, the union of childlikeness with all things human, which is good and great and to be wished for, this is the very core of the gospel of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Although it is still far from everything that has been granted us in God’s only begotten Son—for we shall one day become as He is so as to see Him as He truly is –– this is the very first step. It is already so great and glad a step as is possible for God Almighty and only achievable through His heavenly Father-love which to His Holy Spirit He instils into our hearts.
So the child of Bethlehem was both God and human. And although it sounds like a fairy-tale, He can and will make all believers both God and human too! Jesus Christ was clearly a human being whose like had never been seen before, and God will make such people of all His believers first and foremost, such people whose childlikeness separated from all things childish, will live in loving communion with youthful courage, adult power, and elderly wisdom. For so it lived in Him to the very last moment when on the cross he prayed for his enemies, comforted His mother, and bowed His head with the child’s words, “Father into Your hands I commend my Spirit!” Doubtless our Lord had no wish to demonstrate His youthful courage like a dare-devil and tempt God by throwing Himself off the top of the Temple, but he showed it far more clearly in His meeting with the Tempter in the wilderness, in following the Devil through the air, in defying all the glory of the world and in believing in the true nourishment of God’s Word for the life of man!
The Lord refused to use His adult power as a king at the head of His people to crush His enemies and throw off the heathen yoke. He showed it far more gloriously by bearing poverty, scorn and slander, by bearing His cross, struggling, suffering and dying and by showing His wisdom, radiating though all His words and putting for shame the old, the learned and the scribes. Amen!
Grundtvig, NF.S., 2019. Human Comes First, the Christian Theology of N.F.S. Grundvig. Translated and edited by Edward Broadbridge, Denmark: Aarhus University Press.
December 2019 Highlights
Here Inside the Church and Life Christmas heart (on the cover) there is an array of thoughtful gifts beginning with a message from the 1843 Christmas Day sermon by none other than N.F. S. Grundtvig. –– And you will sing as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice.
Christmas is celebrated with music and song, a melodious celebration from beginning to end. Sisters Sonja Knudsen and Lois Lund have written an essay on “Deljlig er den Himmel blå,” my favorite Christmas hymn! It was the first hymn Grundtvig wrote. He composed this beautiful hymn while recovering at his parents’ home in Udby after experiencing a terrifying night of hallucinations.(1) What a recovery!
We take a trip to Dagmar, Montana with Robert Hansen who was so inspired by his brother Erik’s tale of “Driving to Danevang,” that he wrote “Driving to Dagmar,” ably assisted with several photographs by his wife Cathy Mahaowald. We have a first for Church and Life: –– four Hansen siblings contribute their talents to this special issue! In addition to Bob’s article we have Sonja (Hansen) Walker’s lovely Danish Christmas Heart from one of her paintings; Erik Hansen’s look back at 175 years of Danish history through multi-year anniversary celebrations to see what can be learned from them; and reflections on the “Big Night” (Christmas Eve) by Carla (Hansen) Mortensen.
Continuing with Dagmar, MT, we have a “Home Christmas” story written in 1945 by Valborg Eve about childhood Christmases in Dagmar. The story was submitted by Valborg’s daughter, Marie Sorensen, who also provided a photo of the Dagmar community in 1914.
James Dontje, Director of the Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation at Gustavus Adolphus College in St Peter, MN presented two lectures at the Danebod Folk Meeting this August. Jim’s address, “Climate Changed and Changing” focuses on the dynamic complexities of preparing for a constantly changing future.
Erin Thais Riley, of Kansas City, shares an unusual, highly creative story about nisse, where we have a literal Host! Thais is my niece (Karma’s daughter) who works for the US. Department of Agriculture, newly relocated to Kansas City.
Dick Juhl provides us with “The Almond Prize” written by his aunt, Esther Juhl, who recounts memories of Christmas from her long ago Danish American home in Minneapolis.
Hanna Broadbridge of Randers, Denmark, concludes our hymn theme with an inspiring exegesis of a Grundtvigian hymn replete with promises for the future: “Then the Wilderness Shall Bloom.”
In conclusion, we have a delightful biographical introduction from Bridget Jensen, Jr., your new Church and Life interim editor. Welcome Bridget!
Merry Christmas! Ji
1 NEWLY PUBLISHED: The Common Good, N.F.S. Grundtvig as Politician and Contemporary Historian, Edward Broadbridge, translator and editor, Ove Korsgaard editor, Aarhus University Press, 2019, pg.22.
Save the Dates
Danish Lutheran Church and Culture Center, Yorba Linda CA
Saturday December 14th, DAC Christmas Luncheon at the Danish Cultural Center 1 pm.
Tuesday December 24th Juleaften/Christmas Eve 2 pm. Danish Christmas Service (translation of sermon provided) followed by Coffee & Kringle.
Bethania Lutheran Church, Solvang, CA February 21-23. The Solvang Folk School Talks featuring Michael Gungor and Mike McHargue. See fmlectures.org
The Deadline for the January 2020 issue is December 20. Send articles, photographs, obituaries and Save-the-Date notices to the interim editor: Bridget Lois Jensen, Jr., 1920 W. Clay, Houston TX 77019. Phone: 713-524-1290, or (c) 713-417-2056, firstname.lastname@example.org
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By SANDRA LAURSEN
In 2017 my women’s chorus, Resonance Women’s Chorus of Boulder, learned a piece called “Where the Music Comes From,” with words and music by Lee Hoiby:
I want to be where the music comes from,
Where the clock stops, where it’s now.
I want to be with the friends around me,
Who have found me, who show me how.
I want to sing to the early morning,
See the sunlight melt the snow.
And oh, I want to grow.
I want to wake to the living spirit
Here inside me where it lies.
I want to listen till I can hear it,
Let it guide me, and realize
That I can go with the flow unending,
That is blending, that is real,
And oh, I want to feel.
I want to walk in the earthly garden,
Far from cities, far from fear.
I want to talk to the growing garden,
To the devas,* to the deer,
And to be one with the river flowing,
Breezes blowing, sky above,
*In the Hindu tradition, devas are spirits of nature, embodying forces for all living beings.
The song’s sentiments, phrases such as “the living spirit,” and the composer’s name caught my eye as suspiciously Grundtvigian. With a bit of research I learned that Hoiby indeed had Danish roots. His great-grandfather was a violinist in Denmark, and his piano teacher Gunnar Johansen was born in Copenhagen. Hoiby (1926-2011) was born in Wisconsin and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mills College, and the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Gian-Carlo Menotti. Menotti produced Hoiby’s first opera at the Spoleto Festival, thus launching a career as a pianist and composer of operas, art songs, and choral works.
Throughout his career, Hoiby firmly resisted atonal and minimalist music that was popular in the 1960s. Critics called his music “simple, romantic, traditional, and cosmopolitan,” and saw him as a throwback. His lack of willingness to follow current musical fashion meant his career never really caught fire. But singers adored his compositions: the great diva Leontyne Price championed Hoiby’s works and sang them many times. “Singers, you can’t fool them,” said Hoiby. “When they hear a song, they can tell right away if it’s going to make them sound good. And mine do.” Among Hoiby’s better known works include Summer and Smoke, an opera based on the Tennessee Williams play
I believe “Where the Music Comes From” was influenced by Hoiby’s Danish roots and the ideas of 19th century pastor and philosopher N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872). Grundtvig challenged the standard Calvinist doctrine of the time to say that people should not be focused on the afterlife: Don’t go around being pious just to get into heaven but live in the here and now. Heaven is on earth –– in the natural world and in the love and fellowship with others that we experience in community. When we receive the big and marvelous gift of life on this planet with an open heart, we experience the divine in being joyful and grateful in our daily lives –– this is the “living spirit” inside us all. While Grundtvig couched these ideas in Christian terms, they resonate with many other spiritual traditions. As my yoga teacher says, Live in the present. Be here now.
My family attends summer folk camp at Danebod Folk School, a week of fellowship and lifelong learning. When I sing “I want to be where the music comes from,” I visualize the morning sun streaming into the hundred-year-old music hall at Danebod, where we begin to “sing to the early morning” at 8:45 am. “The clock stops” as over and over we choose old favorites from World of Song; those folk songs have the same lilt to my ear as the up-and-down waltz rhythm of “Where the Music Comes From.” In 2017, when my sister and I were August folk camp directors, we included this song on the song sheet, because it fit our camp spirit so very perfectly.
This year’s August camp theme, “Joy of Living,” brought Hoiby’s song to mind again. His lyrics urge us to plunge into the wide stream of life, to join “the flow unending.” His vision is one of harmony with nature but, importantly, it is not escapist: we find solace and inspiration in nature, but also in human community, whether by singing, growing gardens, or walking in them together. At folk camp, the friends around me “show me how”— when they teach a new dance, demonstrate a new crafting skill, or challenge my ideas in morning discussion, but also when they model activism against injustice or embody graceful living in the face of grief, aging, and change.
Music is integrally bound with the joy of living. Hoiby liked to quote Haydn’s statement that music is “balm for the soul after a hard day’s work.” He felt that music must be “a song from the heart… full of feeling, [making] you feel the rhythm of it that goes along with the rhythm of life, which begins with the beating of the heart.” We all live where the music comes from.