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‘Glorious the day when Christ was born’


“Liturgically, this wonderful hymn is especially fitting for Epiphany, Ascension, and Christ the King, as well as the Easter season (of course), and makes a wonderful processional hymn or a gathering-for-worship song,” says The Rev’d Canon Dr David Cole

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At first glimpse ‘Glorious the day when Christ was born’ looks more like it was written more for Christmas than Easter. However, while this song is relevant for Sunday services generally, as you cast your eyes past the first line and over the full text, it becomes clear why it has a special place at Easter. In just four verses (with lots of ‘Alleluias!’) the late distinguished poet, pastor, playwright and hymn text author, The Rev’d Fred Pratt Green CBE, takes us on a theological journey which charts the course of Christ’s redeeming work, while at the same time encouraging and challenging us all on our faith journey.

This particular text is immediately accessible to us because we can sing it to a well-known Easter tune, Lasst uns Erfreuen, which you might recognise as the great 7th century Easter hymn, ‘Light’s reddening dawn gleams through the sky’. Fred Pratt Green’s text has been published in many congregational song collections around the world, and has been included as no. 826 in Songs of Grace, supplement to Together in Song (Aust Hymn Book II)*.

The first verse points us to Christ, “whose life and death that love reveal which mortals need and need to feel”. We are reminded that this great theological truth of God’s love for us in Christ is not just academic, but one which we “feel” and recognise in our inner selves.

Verse 2 begins with, “Glorious the day when Christ arose, the surest friend of all his foes”.  Christ’s example is one of loving those who actively opposed him, including those responsible for his death on a cross. Fred Pratt Green implies the question as to how we as Christians respond to the challenge to befriend rather than criticise those with different religious views and fight those who would oppose us and our Christian beliefs.

In the third verse, we sing “Glorious the days of gospel grace when Christ restores the fallen race,” to which we all may respond from the bottom of our hearts, with a resounding Easter “Alleluia!” And finally Green points us in verse 4 to the fulfilment of all things in Christ, “when that strong Light puts out the sun and all is ended, all begun”.

This wonderful song encapsulates the story of the purpose of Christ’s life, death and resurrection through exceptional theological poetry, taking up themes of Acts 1.9-11, Romans 6.15-19, and Ephesians 1 (useful knowledge for the service planners among us). The comprehensive indexes in Songs of Grace indicate that this song works well also in other great thematic schemes: adoration and praise, the glory of God, Jesus’ earthly life, Christ’s kingship, and the sovereignty and majesty of God. Liturgically, this wonderful hymn is especially fitting for Epiphany, Ascension, and Christ the King, as well as the Easter season (of course), and makes a wonderful processional hymn or a gathering-for-worship song.

We can be thankful that, after a long and varied ordained ministry, Fred Pratt Green turned seriously to the ministry of hymn texts on the eve of his retirement. In the Companion to Together in Song (AHB, Sydney, 2006), Wesley Milgate and D’Arcy Wood tell us that Fred’s co-option to the committee preparing Hymns and Songs in 1969 was the catalyst:

“He was encouraged to write words for tunes which the committee wished to include, to fill gaps on such themes as the world mission of the church, Christian unity and social responsibility…Few [recent] hymnals in English have failed to include hymns by F. Pratt Green. His ‘Hymn for the Nation’ was the only modern hymn sung at the Silver Jubilee service for Queen Elizabeth II in 1977’ (p.631).”

It is little wonder, then, that Fred Pratt Green was awarded an honorary doctorate from Emory University (USA), served as Vice President of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, was an Associate of the Royal School of Church Music and was made a Fellow of the Hymn Society of the USA and Canada.

‘Glorious the day when Christ was born’ is an important item in Songs of Grace, and will make a wonderful addition to your repertoire of congregational songs if you don’t already know it. It will enhance your services, especially at Easter, in a new and refreshing way.

* Songs of Grace: Supplement to Together in Song, Australian Hymn Book II is published by Australian Church Resources and is available on the Australian Church Resources website in a paperback book and CD.

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