As our dog Jack and I were on our morning walk today, I looked behind one of the houses on our street out into the small nature preserve behind and caught a dazzling image—the first of the woodland trees in our area beginning to bloom. Most branches in our area are still bare. But in this stand of trees it looked as if dozens of sparklers had begun to sizzle.
Immediately these words leapt into my mind:
Fair are the meadows, fair are the woodlands, robed in flow’rs of blooming spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer, he makes my sorrowing spirit sing.
We all know where this comes from: “Beautiful Savior,” ELW 838, a rapt prayer of adoration and thanksgiving to Jesus Christ that has been cherished by Lutherans down through the ages. For many it has become our unofficial denominational hymn, perhaps in part because St. Olaf College has capped its annual Christmas Festival for the better part of a century with the massed choirs lifting the last stanza into a hushed, darkened hall . Hear that here from the 2007 Christmas Festival.
What kind of staying power does “Beautiful Savior” have? Consider this: While many older hymns appear in different hymnals in a various translations or adaptations, the words of these four stanzas have remained virtually unchanged since American Lutheran pastor Joseph Seiss translated the German 17th century original and first published it in 1873. While most of Seiss’ 30-odd hymns appeared only a few hymnals, this one has been published in 114 hymn books -- and not one editor, as far as I can see, has dared tinker with the text.
I am thankful that everyone with whom I have spoken in these past three weeks has kept their spirits up. But as job losses mount and unemployment and small business loans prove hard to come by, let us return again and again to our source of life and wellspring of hope: “…light of my soul, my joy, my crown.”