WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

Insights, analysis, techniques, opinions, and experiences from the team behind the WELS Hymnal Project.

As a child, I remember my parents having us count down the days to Christmas with an Advent calendar. There was the usual haranguing among siblings over whose turn it was to open that day’s door. But each door revealed something about the coming Savior—an Old Testament reference, a picture of Gabriel, Mary or Joseph, a shepherd or sheep—all leading up to the manger behind the December 25 door. We looked ahead to the celebration of our Savior’s birth by looking back to God’s promises.

The hymn “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” has us looking forward by looking back. We look back to the Old Testament pictures of the coming Savior: Emmanuel, Root of Jesse, Dayspring, Key of David. The coming Savior will be God with us. He will be descended from the family of King of David. He will be the key that opens the gates of heaven. He will be the light shining in the darkness of this evil world.

This ancient (12th century) and well-loved hymn with its chant-like melody also directs our thoughts forward to what the coming Savior accomplishes for us.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Like the people of Israel in captivity in heathen Babylon, we were enslaved by our own wickedness in this evil world. The blood of the Son of God made flesh is the ransom price to set us free.

Oh, come, O Root of Jesse, free
Your own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell your people save,
And bring them vict’ry o’er the grave.

Jesus has rescued us from the fear of death and the reality of hell by his death and resurrection.

Oh, come, O Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Pain. Suffering. Sadness. Death. They hang over us like a black cloud and can sap the joy out of life. But the good news of our Savior’s coming comforts us and cheers us.

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home.
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Even though our sins cause great trouble and would keep heaven closed to us, great David’s greater Son has opened the door to the joys of heaven.

As children, we anticipated the opening of gifts on Christmas. As children of God, we also anticipated the celebration of the Gift in Christmas services. We looked back at the Old Testament promises and saw their fulfillment in the baby laid in Bethlehem’s manger. As we look back to God’s promises and “look back” by singing an ancient Advent hymn, may we look forward and rejoice at what our Savior’s coming has done and won for us.


Thank you to all those who took the time to share their thoughts on, "Jerusalem, the Golden."

A good number of people shared their thoughts about the tune paired with this text. Some expressed their preference for EWING (Christian Worship #214), while others enjoy the newer pairing with THAXTED (Christian Worship Supplement #728). Please know that these comments are very valuable as we wrestle with this and many similar decisions. It's not unthinkable that a text could appear with multiple tunes in the next hymnal, as is the case in Christian Worship.

Some of you are aware that this text paired with THAXTED has been the closing hymn at the National Worship Conference since its beginning in 1996. For the 2014 conference, a special setting was commissioned and written by Mr. Dale Witte. We thank Mr. Witte for giving us permission to use the recording of the performance of his setting for the video above.

Next week we'll feature another hymn from the list of Fifty Favorite Hymns: "Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel" (Christian Worship #23).

“Look at the finish line, not your feet.” When my daughter Priscilla and I were running in a race, those were the words I told her. The Third Sunday of End Time, Saints Triumphant, is that sort of Sunday. It’s a day where we lift our eyes up to the finish line and those waiting for us there in heaven. One of the hymns we sing on that Sunday is “Jerusalem the Golden.” It was written by Bernard of Cluny in the 1200s. With beautiful words it lifts our eyes up above the crosses we bear and the trials we endure to the finish line of heaven. In the first stanza, he writes:

Jerusalem the golden, With milk and honey blest—
The sight of it refreshes The weary and oppressed:
I know not, oh, I know not What joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory, What bliss beyond compare:
To sing the hymn unending With all the martyr throng,
Amidst the halls of Zion Resounding full with song.

There are so many pictures and promises of heaven in God’s word. Bernard reminds us that even though we do not know exactly what heaven looks like, we have every right and joy of pondering what these pictures and promises in God’s word are portraying. In verse 2 he writes:

Oh, sweet and blessed country, The home of God’s elect!
Oh, sweet and blessed country That eager hearts expect,
Where they who with their leader Have conquered in the fight
Forever and forever Are clad in robes of white.
Jesus, in mercy bring us To that dear land of rest
Where sings the host of heaven Your glorious name to bless.

Can you see yourself there in heaven? Can you see your sins washed away in Jesus’ blood, wearing the white robe of his righteousness? Can you focus in on the victory that the Lamb of God has won for us and gives to us? Do you yearn for “that dear land of rest?” That’s why this is one of my favorite hymns. It focuses our faith on the finish line. It gives us the privilege of singing a heavenly song knowing that even this song is nothing compared to singing with all the assembled hosts and martyrs when we get to heaven. That is a finish line worth lifting our eyes up to.


Thank you to all those who took the time to share their thoughts on, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." We hope you enjoy hearing a recording of this hymn and seeing some of the comments that we received.

Next week we'll feature another hymn from the list of Fifty Favorite Hymns: "Jerusalem the Golden" (Christian Worship Supplement #728).

“One little word can fell him.”

Do you know what word Martin Luther had in mind? If so, you might be a better Lutheran than I am. I have to admit that even with all the times I’ve sung the hymn, I never bothered to find out the answer to that question.

Maybe I sort of assumed it was something like “Jesus” or “grace.” Maybe I assumed Luther didn’t necessarily have one specific word in mind but rather was making the point that the Word of God in general — even in the smallest of quantities — holds total power over Satan.

But then a recent sermon on verses from Revelation led me to investigate the question further. The verses in front of me were Revelation 14:6,7. They describe an angel, a messenger sent from God, who delivers the gospel to every nation on earth until Jesus’ return. From the earliest days of the Reformation, many have identified Luther as at least part of the fulfillment of this comforting promise. These verses served as the sermon text at Luther’s funeral and have been used on anniversaries of the Reformation for centuries.

The beauty of the picture of that angel is highlighted by the surrounding context. John had just seen a vivid vision of the Church’s greatest enemies: a ferocious red dragon and his two allies, the beasts. That dragon represents Satan, whose goal it is to lead “the whole world astray” (12:9).

As Satan carries out that work, lies flow out of his mouth like water. His liquid lies seep into every nook and cranny of our world. They seep into our homes, our churches, and our hearts. They come in many different shapes and sizes. But one common thread ties them all together. More than anything else, the devil wants us to believe one grand lie, the same lie that he used to get Adam and Eve to bite: God doesn’t love you.

But then amid all of those lies, this angel goes out to do his work. He implores people to worship God and give him glory rather than paying homage to the dragon by listening to his lies. Why? The angels tells us. “The hour of his judgment has come” (14:7). Against all of the devil’s lies that God doesn’t love you stands one accomplished fact. One finished event demonstrates beyond doubt that the devil’s greatest lie is just that, that God most certainly loves us: Jesus’ death on the cross.

“He’s judged. The deed is done.”

So when the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the sins you’ve committed… When the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the suffering you’re enduring… When the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the struggle he’s asking you to take up against the deeply-rooted desires of your heart... Rather than listening to those lies, remember Jesus’ cross as indisputable, irreversible evidence to the contrary.

Then answer the devil with that one little word that, as Jesus has clearly demonstrated, describes him so perfectly: “Liar.” 1

  1. Luther himself identified this as the word he had in mind. When speaking about one of the books written against him, Luther said, “For all such books, even if there were as many as thousands of them written every day and every hour…, are very easily refuted with the single word, ‘Devil, you lie,’ just as that haughty beggar Dr. Luther sings so proudly and boldly in those words of his hymn, ‘One little word shall fell him’” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 41, pp. 185–186).