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Good Shepherd Institute Hymn Festival 2016
“Rejoice, Give Thanks, and Sing of God’s Gifts”
Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN
7 November 2016
Rev. Randy K. Asburry (M.Div., M.A., S.T.M.)
The following is the text of my commentary for the hymn festival, “Rejoice, Give Thanks, and
Sing of God’s Gifts,” held at the 2016 Good Shepherd Institute. The italicized portions before
and after the commentary sections indicate the other portions of the hymn festival in order to
provide the setting and context for my commentary.
Collect - For church musicians and artists (LSB p. 307)
Motet - “One Thing Have I Desired” (Heinrich Schütz)
1. GOD’S GIFTS
Gifts. We love them. We enjoy receiving them. Just ask any boy or girl on Christmas
morning. What child would refuse a gift? We mature adults may not be as exuberant as
children, but we still enjoy receiving gifts. Sure, we put on the façade of being calm,
cool, and collected. But when we receive the right gift, the elation comes bursting forth.
Just ask my father. A few Christmases ago, I watched him, stoic that he is, as he opened
several presents. “Yeah, yeah, another shirt.” Then came the real gift—a fifteen year old
single malt, smooth and smoky. Then his smile resembling the Cheshire Cat. Then
holding, even caressing, the bottle and proudly saying, “My precious.”
How much more the gifts of God in Christ Jesus! Far more precious than toys, or jewels,
or even single malts. “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also
than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). What Peter says of faith can also
be said of God’s gifts in Christ: “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by
fire” (1 Peter 1:7). After all, that faith receives and clings to those gifts. Not only is our
faith often tested by fire in this fallen world, but so are God’s most precious gifts. In
fact, those gifts are tested and proved genuine in the fiery trial of the cross.
All things of God’s good creation were gifts, to be sure. Even the tree from which God
told Adam not to eat. We know it as “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis
2:17), but only because we view it through post-Fall lenses. God, however, did not
create the evil. Perhaps we can think of that one tree as honey from the honeycomb—in
and of itself very good, but, please, do not feed it to a child under the age of one, as
every honey label instructs. Or, as Starke sings, that tree had “lovely limbs with fruit
adorned” (LSB 561:1).
What tested the gifts of God’s good creation? The serpent striving to beguile Eve “and
Adam too” (LSB 561:2) so to defile God’s good gifts. Hence the “day of sadness when
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the breath / Of fear and darkness, doubt and death, / Its awful poison first displayed /
Within the world so newly made” (LSB 561:2). We all know the resulting bitter fruits.
But God does not let us wallow in our self-made mess. He still insists on giving His
good gifts. Chief among them is “The One to fill our greatest need— / For on a tree
uplifted high / His only Son for sin would die” (LSB 561:3). “Now from that tree of
Jesus’ shame / Flows life eternal in His name” (LSB 561:4). Here is God’s greatest gift:
dwelling in His house forever, beholding the beauty of our Savior! Here is our real
Now sing a high doxology
To God who gives salvation.
Both here and in eternity
Let this be our vocation.
To Father, Son, and Spirit raise
A symphony of grateful praise,
For He alone is worthy. (Though All Our Life Is Like a Scroll, st. 5)
Hymn - “Though All Our Life Is Like a Scroll”
Hymn - “The Tree of Life” (LSB 561)
Dr. Kenneth Korby had a fabulous penchant for painting verbal pictures to make
theological points. Those pictures lodge themselves into the mind much like Jesus’
parables. I speak in the present tense because some of those pictures for teaching God’s
truth still rattle around in my head and leap forth in my teaching. Case in point: Dr.
Korby’s picture for “joy.” It’s one thing to give an abstract definition for the noun “joy”
or the verb “rejoice,” or to assert that biblical “joy” is not the same as emotional
“happiness.” It’s quite another thing to ponder “joy” by using the picture of a
The dislocated thumb is, obviously, out of joint, and suffering intense pain. Then comes
a helper to yank on that sore thumb and snap it back into place. Agh! More pain! But the
joint is back in place and the healing begins. The thumb still throbs, to be sure.
Tenderness continues, perhaps for a long while. But the healing does begin and
proceed. That, Korby said—and I still say—is “joy.” Being set back in place, despite the
throbbing, despite the tenderness. Healing has begun. Pain-free and normal movement
is yet to come, but it is on the way.
Such is the joy that one and all dear Christians have in Christ Jesus. We do not strive to
conjure up joy by means of emotional manipulations or ecstatic experiences. No, the
holy rapture with which we sing is based solely on the work of our Divine Helper, Jesus
the Christ, who comes to our rescue and snaps us back in place with our gracious God.
He came to have compassion. He came to be our brother. He came to take on our
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servants’ form. He came to strive and wrestle. He came to shed His precious blood. He
came to suffer for our good. His innocence bears our sin. His death snatches victory
from the jaws of death itself and gives us life—His life, His comfort, His healing.
True rejoicing comes in the wonders that God has done, “How His right arm the vict’ry
won. / What price our ransom cost Him!” (LSB 556:1). Snapped back into place with
God Himself—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who has loved us from eternity
and into eternity—all is made right, all is now justified.
But what of the ongoing pain, the constant throbbing of life in a broken world? Saints
here, in patience still, do bear their cross and sufferings. We can identify with the
psalmist. Though justified and made right with God, we still feel, and we still are,
poured out like water, bones out of joint, hearts melting like wax within our breasts (cf.
Psalm 22:14). Nevertheless, “Rejoice, rejoice, believers, / And let your lights appear…. /
The Bridegroom is arising / And soon is drawing nigh” (LSB 515:1). “The sun of
righteousness will rise with healing in [His] wings” (Malachi 4:2). As Jesus said, “So also you
have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your
joy from you” (John 16:22).
Hymn - “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers” (LSB 515)
Hymn - “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (LSB 556)
3. GIVE THANKS
It’s November and, culturally speaking, it’s our once-a-year season to consider…and
conjure up…giving thanks. Okay, if we must. But only because turkey, sweet potatoes
and cranberry sauce are included in the deal. And we know what happens first thing, or
before, on so-called “Black Friday.” Forget the thankfulness and praise; back to the
“Gimme, gimme, gimme” and “That’s mine!”
We are accustomed to giving thanks for the First Article and Fourth Petition blessings—
for clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, and so on;
for “daily bread…and chicken,” as someone once quipped; for everything that has to do
with the support and needs of the body. All well and good. But what about the rest of
God’s gifts? What about the needs of the soul? After all, daily bread and First Article
needs show up in only one petition of the Lord’s Prayer. There are, after all, six other
petitions dealing with other needs and gifts from our Creator and Savior.
At first, Fred Pratt Green’s hymn, “For the Fruits of His Creation” (LSB 894), stresses the
“plowing, sowing, reaping” and the “silent growth while we are sleeping” (v. 1). Then
we sing of “just reward of labor” and giving help to our neighbor, and even the “world-
wide task of caring / For the hungry and despairing” (v. 2). All very good things, and
all most worthy of giving thanks. But then Green sneaks in a different kind of harvest:
“For the harvests of the Spirit” (v. 3). Then he leads us to give thanks “for the good we
all inherit” and “most of all, that love has found us” (v. 3).
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Stephen Starke tastes “a trinitarian flavor” baked into Green’s poetry of harvest and
thanksgiving. First, comes thanking God for His gifts of creation. Second, comes
thanking Him for acts of charity, which are clothed in the very words and deeds of Jesus
Christ, our gracious Redeemer. And third, comes thanksgiving for the Spirit’s work in
making us holy heirs of God.
Genuine thanksgiving cannot happen apart from our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit. Instead of saying merely, “I’m thankful for…”, we say, “I thank God for….”
Genuine thanksgiving does not, indeed dare not, divorce secular from sacred, God’s
material gifts from His spiritual gifts. Giving thanks includes much more than gratitude
for tasty turkey and savory sweet potatoes. Let’s include giving thanks for His name,
His kingdom, and His will. Let’s include giving thanks for His forgiveness for our sins,
His protection in temptation and trial, and His deliverance from evil, especially our
blessed end still to come, when He graciously takes us from this valley of sorrow to
Himself in heaven.
All glory be to God on high
And thanks for all His favor;
No harm can touch or terrify
A child of God forever.
God shows His good and gracious will
And grants His peace, the world to fill—
ll strife at last has ended (LSB 947:1, emphasis added).
Hymn - “For the Fruits of His Creation” (LSB 894)
Hymn - “All Glory Be to God on High” (LSB 947)
4. AND SING
This past Easter I had the privilege of confirming two young men who came from a
Reformed background. They had been taught the Ten Commandments (the other
numbering, of course) and the Lord’s Prayer, and they were familiar with the Apostles’
Creed. When I asked them why they wanted to become Lutheran, they said, “Because
you guys sing. And not just Psalm verses to simple tunes. You have these glorious,
Dr. Norman Nagel famously wrote: “Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows
what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with
eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging
and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God” (Lutheran Worship, 6, emphasis
We sing with hopeful anticipation through Advent. We sing with a lilt on Christmas
night “to hear the news the angels bring” (LSB 377:1). We sing our songs of thankfulness
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and praise through Epiphany. We sing in minor key befitting repentance through Lent.
We open the stops of our throats to call out the “Easter triumph, Easter joy,” for “this
alone can sin destroy” (LSB 633:7). We keep on singing, through the green season, of
that life that knows no end, that life awaiting us at the end when Christ will come again.
We love enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God. We love it so
much that we even take portions of the Christmas recipe and mix them with portions of
the Holy Week and Easter recipes. Ah, the savory delight in singing the “news of our
merciful King’s birth” (LSB 377:1) in one stanza and then singing of how “our Redeemer
made us glad, / when from our sin He set us free, / All for to gain our liberty” (LSB
377:2). “No greater joy exists for His earthly subjects, for His incarnation is the
beginning of their salvation, reaching its denouement in the resurrection” (LSB Hymn
Companion, to be published). We even take an Easter hymn of the Lamb’s high feast and
move it into the Lord’s Supper section, just so we can sing it more often and feast on the
Lamb’s Passover victory any Sunday we wish. Yes, Easter is the big Sunday, and every
Sunday is a little Easter…and Advent…and Christmas…and Epiphany…and so on.
This singing is nothing less than what the Lord speaks, and then speaking back to Him,
by means of song, what He has first spoken to us, repeating “what is most true and
sure” (Lutheran Worship, 6). When Scripture exhorts us to “sing to the LORD a new
song” (Psalm 98:1), it’s not urging us to foist the latest fads on the flock of God. No, it’s
exhorting us to sing a new kind of song, a song with a new, life-giving message. “For He
has done marvelous things! His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for
Him” (Psalm 98:1).
Rejoice, O pilgrim throng!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing;
Your festal banner wave on high,
The cross of Christ your king.
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing! (LSB 813:1).
Hymn - “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing” (LSB 366)
Hymn - “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” (LSB 633)
Collect - For steadfast faith (LSB, p. 311)
Hymn - “Rejoice, O Pilgrim Throng” (LSB 813)
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