07 December 2014

Hymns for Advent (8): ‘On Jordan’s bank
the Baptist’s cry’ by Charles Coffin (No 136)

Saint John the Baptist baptises Christ in the River Jordan ... a detail from a window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

As part of my spiritual reflections for Advent this year, I am looking at an appropriate hymn for Advent each morning. Today [7 December 2014] is the Second Sunday of Advent, and the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for this day are: Isaiah 40: 1-11; Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13; II Peter 3: 8-15a; Mark 1: 1-8. That Gospel reading provides the introduction to Saint Mark’s account of the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan by Saint John the Baptist. So, this morning, on the Second Sunday of Advent, I have chosen On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (Irish Church Hymnal, No 136).

This is one of the few Advent hymns to take account of Saint John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Coming Christ.

This hymn, which is based on the text in Luke 3: 1-18, was originally thought to be a mediaeval Latin hymn. But it was written by Charles Coffin (1676-1749), who became the Rector of the University of Paris in 1718, and first appeared in the Paris Breviary in 1736. It was translated by the Revd John Chandler (1806-1876), Vicar of Witley in Godalming, Surrey, and one of the early translators of Latin hymns into English with Anglican churches and parishes in mind.

The tune, ‘Winchester New,’ is a melody adapted from Georg Wittwe’s Musikalishes Hand-Buch (Hamburg, 1690) by Canon William Henry Havergal (1793-1870), one of the leading figures in reforming church psalmody in the Anglican tradition.

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry by Charles Coffin (No 136)

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.

Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
make straight the way for God within;
prepare we in our hearts a home
where such a mighty guest may come.

For thou art our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.

To heal the sick stretch forth thine hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth, and let thy light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more.

All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
whose advent doth thy people free;
whom with the Father we adore
and Holy Ghost for evermore.

The Baptism of Christ depicted in stucco relief in the Baptistery in the Church of Saint Nicholas of Myra, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)


Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow:The angel Gabriel from heaven came’ (139)

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