“The Race That Long in Darkness Pined”

It’s way too early for Christmas, but….

My favorite reading for the Christmas season is the King James translation of Isaiah 9.1-8. I love the rhythm of the language, and the beauty of the imagery. From a theological perspective, I’m not willing to say that Isaiah 9.1-8 predicts the coming of Jesus as the one and only Messiah (capital “M”) — I’m in the camp that says there have been and will continue to be messiahs (lower case “m”), of whom Jesus of Nazareth was one. Whatever my theological position, it’s a beautiful piece of prose.

Recently, I stumbled across a metrical paraphrase of Isaiah 9.1-8, done by John Morison for the 1650 Scottish Psalter. It’s not as good a rendition as the King James translation — but because it’s a metrical paraphrase, you could sing it, and how cool is that? So I wrote a hymn tune for it. A polyphonic tune. In Dorian mode. Between the music and the words, this would never be used as a hymn in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. But I had fun writing it, and there are one or two hymn geeks out there who might actually enjoy seeing it, so here it is:


(Click the image for a PDF. Complete words below.)

1. The race that long in darkness pined,
have seen a glorious light,
The people dwell in day, who dwelt
in death’s surrounding night.

2. To hail thy rise, thou better Sun!
the gath’ring nations came,
Joyous, as when the reapers bear
the harvest-treasures in.

3. For thou our burden has removed
and quelled th’oppressor’s sway,
Quick as the slaughter’d squadrons fell
in Midian’s evil day.

4. To us a child of hope is born,
to us a son is given;
Him shall the tribes of earth obey,
him all the hosts of heaven.

5. His name shall be the Prince of Peace
forevermore adored,
The Wonderful, the Counsellor,
the great and mighty Lord.

6. His power increasing still shall spread,
his reign no end shall know;
Justice shall guard his throne above
and peace abound below.

(Verse 3 is dropped in some hymnals.)

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