There is not much known about this Christmas hymn, and what we know, we don’t really. It is more legend than anything. The man with whom original authorship is attributed is Heinrich Suso (Suese), back in the 14th century (1328 AD), making it one of the oldest Christmas hymns we sing today. Suso was a Dominican monk exiled to Switzerland because he was a bit too much of a mystic for the Pope’s liking. While there, he claims to have dreamed of angels singing all around him. He began to join in the song and then dancing (definitely not a Baptist). When he awoke, he remembered his dream and all the lyrics to what they sang. He put pen to paper and wrote what would ultimately be referred to as In Dulce Jubilo (In Sweet Rejoicing). It is thought that Martin Luther may have also contributed to one of the verses though we can’t know that for sure.
Later on another man–John Mason Neale (of whom I share a birthday)–an Anglican priest, translated In Dulce Jubilo into English in the 1850s. We still sing this version today. As you read the lyrics, notice the progression of the gospel message, starting simply with the fact of Jesus’ birth, then the reason for Jesus’ birth (to open heaven’s door), and the culmination of Jesus’ birth (to save).
Good Christian men, rejoice, With heart and soul, and voice; Give ye heed to what we say: (News! News!) Jesus Christ is born to-day; Ox and ass before him bow, And he is in the manger now. Christ is born to-day! Christ is born to-day!
Good Christian men, rejoice, With heart and soul, and voice; Now ye hear of endless bliss: (Joy! Joy!) Jesus Christ was born for this! He hath op’ed the heavenly door, And man is blessed forevermore. Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!
Good Christian men, rejoice, With heart and soul, and voice; Now ye need not fear the grave: (Peace! Peace!) Jesus Christ was born to save! Calls you one and calls you all To gain his everlasting hall. Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!
That being said…Gather God’s People: Understand, Plan, and Lead Worship in Your Local Church, published by Zondervan in 2014, is a pretty good book. I know that isn’t the best language to use when reviewing a book. It’s very non-committal. Let me explain why, and perhaps you can forgive me for such a review. Having read five other books by Pastor Croft, most of which were co-authored, Gather God’s People simply had an altogether different feel or vibe to it. I should have expected it, since the first words of the introduction are, “I (Brian) have a confession to make. Jason, my coauthor, is really the one who wrote this book,” (p. 13). Pastor Croft does directly contribute to portions of the book, but by and large this is Jason Adkin’s book, with Jason Adkin’s thinking and writing style. I have often read that we are not to review the book that we wish we had read, but the book in which we actually read. And for that reason, I want to say that outside of the writing style that I’m used to from a Brian Croft book, this book was well-written and wonderfully practical, as I have come to expect from Practical Shepherding books.
The premise of the book is simple and doable. While giving examples from their own experience and their own worship planning and services, the author’s readily admit that this is not the only way, but it is a biblical model for worship. After all, “Through the Old Testament, Christians learn that God cares deeply how he is worshiped. In the New Testament, God explicitly teaches believers how he is to be worshiped,” (p. 19). Thus by chapter 2, Pastor Adkins laid out the five-part objective to worship: Preach the Word, Read the Word, Pray the Word, Sing the Word, and See the Word. This is not a new understanding, but simply a clarification and a practicum of how and why these objectives are biblical and right. These five objectives make up the book. However, I would not recommend simply taking these five objectives to memory and ignoring the actual reading of the Croft/Adkins material. There is wisdom to be found in these pages. Wisdom such as “Do no hermeneutical harm to your congregation’s understanding of Scripture,” (p. 60), and
The task of planning worship songs for a weekly gather is not about perpetuating perceptions about your church. Worship planners ought to equip believers to carry out the commands to edify one another through “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and to address their praises to God with a heartfelt melody (Ephesians 5:19, ESV).
Gather God’s People is laid out into three sections rather than two like many of these practical guides. Normally the layout tends to be the why and the how. In this particular book it is more of the why, the how, and the do. After all, “Ministers must prepare to present the various elements in the service in a way that aids the worship of the congregation rather than hinders it,” (p. 86). The first part is written to help us “Understand Worship.” Its chapters are about the biblical theology, elements, and spirituality of worship. It is a crash course in worship which quickly goes through what many worship books deal with as a whole. The second part is showing one how to actually “Plan Worship.” This was the most helpful part of the book for me. It is made up of three chapters as well. Interestingly enough, there is not much on “preaching the word,” though it is the first element or objective. I would venture to say that the reason is that this is not a book on hermeneutics, but worship as a whole. Pastor Croft’s book on The Pastor’s Ministry would deal more with that, as well as many other books on preaching. The three chapters deal with the reading, praying, and singing of the Word. Pastor Adkins details how to plan each of these aspects and does not shy away from the fact that emotions (though not emotionalism) are involved in worship. There is a feeling that is invoked as we worship, and leaders/planners need to be mindful of that. “Acknowledge the emotional and spiritual condition of your congregation in your planning. Furthermore, intended emotional responses should play a role in planning,” (p. 77). The final part is about leading the congregation in these areas. The final three chapters (not including the Conclusion or appendices) are in this section. It is there that the authors deal with the actual worship service and the implementation of what has been planned. It is also here that the ordinances (the “seeing the word”) aspect of worship is brought up.
A quick note on the appendices: they are mostly showing how the Psalms can be incorporated into the music aspects of congregational worship. There are arguments for doing so along with examples of them set to familiar tunes.
All in all, this was a helpful and practical book. It is probably the most practical book on worship I have read. Much of what I tend to read is theoretical or theological, but rarely do authors have the gumption to get down to the nitty-gritty details of planning and executing the worship service. While it took me a little longer to read this work, coming in at only 143 pages, due to the writing style and the holidays, I appreciated the contents of it. I readily give it 4 stars on Good Reads, and readily commend it to every pastor and/or worship leader.