Singing through the Year: Light in the Dark Months

I haven’t chosen any light-themed hymns up until now but you may have sung quite a few of them at your church. It’s not a coincidence that this season is full of scripture readings about light. These are dark, cold weeks, and I, along with many other people, am finding them heavy and full of what Jesus called “wars and rumors of wars.”

This Thursday—February 2nd—is the celebration of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple—a celebration of Jesus, the Light of the World. You might know it as “The Meeting of the Lord” or “Candlemas.” It’s on the 2nd because the presentation would have occurred forty days after Jesus’ birth, and the 2nd is 40 days after December 25th.

(Incidentally, ever wondered why Jesus’ birth is celebrated when it is? And did Christmas come from a pagan festival? Here are answers to your questions!)

At the Temple, the Holy Family met the elderly Simeon and the Prophetess Anna, who both praised God. (Read the account here >>>) Simeon’s praise is recorded and has often been set to music:

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

I decided to learn a setting of the Song of Simeon this week. There are quite a few, so if you already know one and want something to sing this week—choose the one you know. Since I didn’t already know any hymn-settings of the text, I chose one by Rae E. Whitney—an English poet born in 1927 who, I’ve now found out, has written quite a number of hymns (you can read a brief bio here >>> —and even a doctoral dissertation on her hymnody here >>>). The melody is by the Renaissance composer Orlando Gibbons. The text and melody together are gorgeous!

Since Whitney’s text is under copyright, I’m not reproducing it here. But here is a great recording, and it’s relatively quick to memorize—only 52 words. (It’s #499 in the Hymnal 1982 if you have access to that).

Another beautiful, easy-to-sing setting is James J. Quinn’s “Song of Simeon,” and this one does have publicly available sheet music >>>

Like Simeon and Anna, may we know in our hearts that Jesus is the light of the world—on dark winter days, on fearful days, on hopeful days, on all days.