Hills of the North, rejoice, river and mountain-spring, hark to the advent voice; valley and lowland, sing. Christ comes in righteousness and love, he brings salvation from above.
2 Isles of the Southern seas, sing to the listening earth, carry on every breeze hope of a world’s new birth: In Christ shall all be made anew, his word is sure, his promise true.
3 Lands of the East, arise, he is your brightest morn, greet him with joyous eyes, praise shall his path adorn: your seers have longed to know their Lord; to you he comes, the final Word.
4 Shores of the utmost West, lands of the setting sun, welcome the heavenly guest in whom the dawn has come: he brings a never-ending light who triumphed o’er our darkest night.
5 Shout, as you journey home, songs be in every mouth, lo, from the North they come, from East and West and South: in Jesus all shall find their rest, in him the universe be blest.
Charles Edward Oakley, the author, was an Anglican priest who ended up as rector of St Paul’s Covent Garden in London. He died in 1865 and this hymn was published five years after his death. It wasn’t possible to include a revised version of the hymn (the original words were felt to have colonialist allusions) in Rejoice and Sing and also pair it with the tune Little Cornard (to which is it is, almost always, sung). Interestingly in the years since Rejoice and Sing was published it has, in revised version, entered various editions of Hymns Ancient and Modern and is also found in Singing the Faith . It isn’t included in Church Hymnary 4 used, primarily, in Scotland.
A rather splendid rendition of the hymn can be heard here.
Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’, and to the south, ‘Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth—
The hymn by Charles Edward Oakley and the reading both place their respective readers (perhaps I should say “singers”) squarely in the crosshairs of a compass centre-point. Every direction is invoked to participate in an encircling carnival. Oakley invokes North, South, East and West to see, and to rejoice. The moment is this one. Now is the time. The writer’s tense is the present moment, but in the sense of what is seen on the horizon.
It seems to me that the Reading is doing something connected but different. The writer’s moment is yet to come, the aspect is promise. He speaks of what will be in future tense. In its way, though, the Reading is more specific. It’s action more concrete. Real justice for real sons and daughters, real flesh and blood.
Peter Rollins wrote once that the great stumbling block of Christianity – or one of them – was its insistence on a particular instance over speculative general possibility: the claim on our lives of this moment, this saviour, this place and this hope.
It is easy to believe in thepossibility of a saviour, of a possible hope, in another moment. But the claim that divinity inhabits a particular life, and that the divine is active in a particular moment makes a response unavoidable. I must judge if it is true and how it is true. I cannot hide in speculation about possibility or metaphysics. A response of heart and hand – and head – is called out from me.
Put your ear to the ground and identify the noises around you. Predominant are anxious, restless footsteps, frightened footsteps in the dark, footsteps bitter and rebellious. No sound yet of hope’s first footsteps. Glue your ear to the ground again. Hold your breath put out your advance antennae. The Master is on his way, most likely he will not get here when things are going well, but in the bad times when the going’s unsure and painful.
(From “A Procession of Prayers” compiled by John Carden)
The Rev’d Dr John McNeil Scott is Principal of the Scottish United Reformed & Congregational College