Text:O Word of God Incarnate
Author:William Walsham How
Adapter and Harmonizer:Mendelssohn
Media:MIDI file

279. O Word of God Incarnate

1 O Word of God incarnate,
O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth unchanged, unchanging,
O Light of our dark sky:
we praise you for the radiance
that from the Scripture's page,
a lantern to our footsteps,
shines on from age to age.

2 The church from you, dear Master,
received this gift divine;
and still that light is lifted
o'er all the earth to shine.
It is the chart and compass
that all life's voyage through,
mid mists and rocks and quicksands,
still guides, O Christ, to you.

3 O make your church, dear Savior,
a lamp of burnished gold
to bear before the nations
your true light as of old.
O teach your traveling pilgrims
by this their path to trace
till, clouds and darkness ended,
we see you face to face.

Text Information
First Line: O Word of God incarnate
Title: O Word of God Incarnate
Author: William Walsham How (1867, alt.)
Meter: 76 76 D
Language: English
Publication Date: 1987
Scripture: ; ; ; ; ;
Topic: Illumination; Word of God; Christmas (7 more...)
Tune Information
Adapter and Harmonizer: Mendelssohn (1847)
Meter: 76 76 D
Key: E♭ Major
Source: Neu-vermehrtes Gesangbuch, Meiningen, 1693

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Ps. 119:105, 130, John 1:1-14
st. 2 = 2 Tim. 3:15-17
st. 3 = Matt. 5:14-16, 1 Cor. 13:12

The prevalent image in this hymn is light: God is the Light; his Word is a light for our path; and we, the church, must be a light for the nations. The author, William W. How (b. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, 1823; d. Leenane, County Mayo, Ireland, 1897), first published it with a subhead quotation from Proverbs 6:23: "For the commandment is a lamp: and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (KJV). Some hymnodists have stated that the song is based on Psalm 119:105, which contains nearly the same imagery: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." Using intriguing word play, the hymn praises Christ as the "Word of God incarnate" and as the "Light" who has given us Scripture (often referred to as God's Word) as a "light" ("lantern") to guide the church (st. 1-2) and to inspire it to be a "lamp" for shining God's "light" to all the world (st. 2-3). The text also includes travel imagery: "footsteps" (st. 1), "chart and compass," "voyage" (st. 2), and "pilgrims" (st. 3).

Singing this text, we pray that the church, the people of God, will always be led by the Scriptures to seek Christ, to whom the Scriptures point, and to bring the good news of his Word to the nations. This text was first published in the 1867 addition to Psalms and Hymns (1854), a supplementary collection How edited with Thomas B. Morrell.

How studied at Wadham College, Oxford, and Durham University and was ordained in the Church of England in 1847. He served various congregations and became Suffragan Bishop in east London in 1879 and Bishop of Wakefield in 1888. Called both the "poor man's bishop" and "the children's bishop," How was known for his work among the destitute in the London slums and among the factory workers in west Yorkshire. He wrote a number of theological works about controversies surrounding the Oxford Movement and attempted to reconcile biblical creation with the theory of evolution. He was joint editor of Psalms and Hymns (1854) and Church Hymns (1871). While rector in Whittington, How wrote some sixty hymns, including many for children. His collected Poems and Hymns were published in 1886.

Liturgical Use:
As a sung prayer for illumination and for the preservation and mission of the church.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune Information:

MUNICH has a colorful history. Traces of it run as far back as 1593 in the Dresden, Germany, Gesangbuch in conjunction with the text 'Wir Christenleut." A version from a Meiningen Gesangbuch (1693) is still used in Lutheranism for "O Gott, du frommer Gott." Felix Mendelssohn's adaptation of that tune for the quartet "Cast Thy Burden upon the Lord" in the oratorio Elijah (1846) is the most recent step in shaping MUNICH as we find it in the Psalter Hymnal and other modern English hymnals.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. Hamburg, Germany, 1809; d. Leipzig, Germany, 1847) was the son of banker Abraham Mendelssohn and the grandson of philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. His Jewish family became Christian and took the Bartholdy name (name of the estate of Mendelssohn's uncle) when baptized into the Lutheran church. The children all received an excellent musical education. Mendelssohn had his first public performance at the age of nine and by the age of sixteen had written several symphonies. Profoundly influenced by J. S. Bach's music, he conducted a performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829 (at age 20!) – the first performance since Bach's death, thus reintroducing Bach to the world. Mendelssohn organized the Domchor in Berlin and founded the Leipzig Conservatory of Music in 1843.

Traveling widely, he not only became familiar with various styles of music but also became well known himself in countries other than Germany, especially in England. He left a rich treasury of music: organ and piano works, overtures and incidental music, oratorios (including St. Paul or Elijah and choral works, and symphonies. He harmonized a number of hymn tunes himself, but hymnbook editors also arrange some of his other tunes into hymn tunes.

Given its geographical roots, we may be fairly confident that the tune is named after the German city Munich, although the city's name in German is München.

Like many other chorales, MUNICH is in bar form (AABA'). Try singing it in harmony and possibly unaccompanied on stanza 2

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

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