I am the song leader in my church. I am not very proficient as a musician or a choral director. I pray that, someday soon, God will send someone more capable, to take this ministry from me. But for the time being it is my responsibility to select the music and lead the congregation in the singing every week.

I take that responsibility seriously. The hymns and songs that I select must be doctrinally sound, they must be appropriate for worship with a God-centered worldview, and, withing those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and, support the text and subject of my pastor’s messages.

Some of us have been singing the hymns for years; the words roll off our lips but the messages often don't engage our minds or penetrate our hearts. With the apostle Paul, I want the congregation to "sing with understanding."

So for the past couple years, it has been my practice to select one hymn each week, research it, and then highlight it with a short introductory commentary so that the congregation will be more informed regarding the origin, the author's testimony, or the doctrinal significance of the hymns we sing.

It is my intention here with this blog, to archive these hymn commentaries for my reference and to make them freely available to other church song leaders. For ease of reference, all the hymn commentaries in this blog will be titled IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Other posts (which will be music ministry related opinion pieces) will be printed in lower case letters.

I know that some of the comments contain traces of my unique style, but please feel free to adapt them and use the content any way you can for the edification of your congregation and to the glory of God.

All I ask is that you leave a little comment should you find something helpful.

Ralph M. Petersen

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Friday, March 25, 2016


I came across a meme* that has appeared frequently this Christmas season and some of you might have seen it also.  It is a picture of the manger with the caption; “One unplanned pregnancy saved us all.”  

The use of that imagery to make a social argument against abortion (or even homelessness) seems repugnant.

It’s not that the picture, itself, is bad or that it doesn’t invoke thoughts about God coming into His creation in the form of a baby.  It’s just that the suggestion that Mary’s pregnancy was unplanned is incompatible with the doctrines of God and the incarnation.  In fact, the incarnation was planned before the creation of the universe and, God ordered every single detail, of the story, with meticulous accuracy. 

And that seems to be a troublesome paradox. 

There is an ancient Polish Christmas carol that dates back possibly 700 years.  The title of the song suggests the paradox; INFANT HOLY, INFANT LOWLY.  It is hard to comprehend an Almighty, Sovereign God who would plan such a lowly entrance into His creation.

That paradox (the lowly birth or the lowliness of Jesus) is noted in several other songs, poetry, and prose.  Consider these words by Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Filling the World, He Lies In a Manger

Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.

In the Father, He remains,
From His mother, He goes forth.

Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.

Unspeakably wise,
He is wisely speechless.

Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.

Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at His mother's bosom.
He is both great in the nature of God,
and small in the form of a servant.

"The claim that Christianity makes for Christmas is that at a particular time and place God came to be with us Himself.  When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One who inhabits eternity comes to dwell in time. The One whom none can look upon and live is delivered in a stable under the soft, indifferent gaze of cattle. The Father of all mercies puts Himself at our mercy."                            

Frederick Buechner


Infant holy, infant lowly,
For His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing
Christ the child is Lord of all.
Swiftly winging, angels singing,
Bells are ringing, tidings bringing:
Christ the child is Lord of all!
Christ the child is Lord of all!

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping
Vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story,
Tidings of a Gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
Praised voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the child was born for you!
Christ the child was born for you!

(Meme - a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way).

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