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Advent Week 2: Isaiah 40:1-11


Click on the box above to hear the tune HYFRYDOL

Wednesday, December 13
Professor Eric Wall

If you hum, sing, or play the hymn-tune HYFRYDOL, or listen to it here, alongside this Isaiah reading, you might fi nd that the two have a similar kind of rise-and-fall. The tune’s beginning (any tune’s beginning if it is familiar or well-loved) might suggest comfort. The higher notes might echo Isaiah: a voice cries out, [the mouth of the Lord has spoken. In the contrasting third phrase, we might hear the questioning in the next words of Isaiah:] What shall I cry? Surely the people are grass. And the tune’s highest, most expansive phrase comes near the end, like the herald is bidden to get to a high place and lift up a voice.

Biblical texts do indeed sing. If you were asked not to “hum HYFRYDOL” but to sing or think of “Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down,” you might hear the music even more immediately. Words are often aloft on hymn-tunes, just as a chapter like Isaiah 40 seems to be soaring as we read it. Charles Wesley was, of course, not writing about Isaiah 40. Or was he?

Jesus, thou art all compassion; pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.

Do we hear the first two verses of this chapter in the stanza above? Do we hear the echoes elsewhere?

Breathe, o breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast
“The grass withers when the breath of the Lord blows upon it …
but the word of our God will stand forever.”

Suddenly return and never, nevermore thy temples leave
“Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”

Lost in wonder, love, and praise
“The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and
all people shall see it together.”

Are Isaiah and Wesley making the same prayer?

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