Friday, December 25, 2020

God in cradle lies, A Psalm for Christmas Day Morning

“A Psalm for Christmass day morning,” by Thomas Pestel (circa 1585-1659), appeared in his Sermons and Devotions Old and New... in 1659, in nine stanzas. The text below is substantially what appeared at that time, with some updates to modern spelling. The hymn is Common Meter and might be sung with any good common meter tune, or C.M.D. if the 9th stanza is repeated. If sung as the latter, Oxford, a tune already known to Sacred Harp singers with “Christmas text,” will serve quite well!

The author was a chaplain to King Charles I. The title page of his book called him “the meanest amongst his late Majesties Chaplains in ordinary.” Pestel was educated at Queens’ College in Cambridge, graduating in 1609.

1. Fairest of morning Lights appear,
Thou blest and gaudy day,
On whom was born our Saviour dear,
Make haste and come away.

2. See, See, our pensive breasts do pant,
Like gasping land we lie,
Thy holy dews our souls do want.
We faint, we pine, we die.

3. Let from the skies a joyful rain
Like Mel or Manna fall.
Whose searching drops our sins may drain,
And quench our sorrows all.

4. This day prevents his day of doom;
His mercy now is nigh;
The mighty God of love is come,
The day-spring from on high.

5. Behold, the great Creator makes
Himself an house of clay,
A robe of virgin flesh he takes
Which he will wear for aye.

6. Hark, hark, the wise Eternal Word
Like a weak infant cries;
In form of servant is the Lord,
And God in cradle lies.

7. This wonder struck the world amazed,
It shook the starry frame;
Squadrons of spirits stood and gazed,
Then down in troops they came.

8. Glad shepherds ran to view this sight;
A quire of angels sings;
And eastern sages with delight
Adore this King of kings.

9. Join then all hearts that are not stone,
And all our voices prove
To celebrate this holy One,
The God of Peace and Love.

Notes: “Mel” is verse 3 probably means honey. The beginning of verse 9 in the original has the abbreviation “Bis.” This apparently means that verse was to be repeated (as in sung twice). The title page of Sermons and Devotions Old and New in 1659 says Pestel was “now aged 73,” making his birth about 1585.

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