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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Today's Hymn

Watchman, tell us of the night,
what its signs of promise are.
Traveler, what a wondrous sight:
see that glory-beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
news of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes; it brings the day,
promised day of Israel.

Watchman, tell us of the night;
higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
see, it bursts o’er all the earth.

Watchman, tell us of the night,
for the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, shadows take their flight;
doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, you may go your way;
hasten to your quiet home.
Traveler, we rejoice today,
for Emmanuel has come!

John Bowring’s “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night” (tune: Aberystwyth)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

I don’t spend much time thinking about who wrote the hymns we sing; the words get the attention—not the author. “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night” paints a word picture for us. A traveler asks the watchman if there is anything of interest this night. Does this star give us a sign? Yes, says the watchman, it brings the promised day of Israel. The dialogue continues: the star is for all the world; the shadows of doubt take flight and terror is withdrawn. The final words from the watchman: “Traveler, we rejoice today, for Emmanuel has come!” Can you see the picture in your mind?

But the author John Bowring is too interesting to pass up. He lived from 1792 to 1872. Born in Exeter, England, his formal education seemed to end at age 13. It is claimed that he knew 200 languages and could speak 100. He was a political economist, a British Member of Parliament, the British consul at Canton, the governor of Hong Kong, a commissioner to Italy, and envoy extraordinaire from the Hawaiian government to the courts of Europe. “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night” is one of dozens of hymns he either wrote or translated. “In the Cross of Christ I Glory is another of his better-known hymns.

No matter where our life takes us, as we keep watch for the blessed day of our Lord we, like the traveler, are filled with questions of wonder and hope.

God of wisdom and light, we thank you for this time of waiting and watching. Amen.

Written by Roger Wilson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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