The Already and Not Yet of Christmas, by Mrs. Margaret Sprow

This Christmas, let’s put ourselves in the sandals of those who were expectantly waiting and preparing for the Messiah to come. Simeon was one of those longing for the Messiah. In Luke 2:29-32 he exclaims as he holds Jesus in his arms, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). As Simeon longed to see the Messiah come, so we long for Christ’s second advent, when He returns in glory to usher in His kingdom. This tension between the already and the not yet is seen in the music we sing. 

The already:

Joy to the world!

The Lord is come

Let earth receive her King.

Let every heart prepare him room

And heav’n and nature sing!


Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings

Ris’n with healing in his wings


And the not yet:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear.


Come, thou long-expected Jesus

Born to set thy people free

From our fears and sins release us

Let us find our rest in thee.

The centerpiece of our Lessons and Carols service this year is the first movement of John Rutter’s “Gloria” and is a majestic statement of the “already.” Rutter is a contemporary English composer who wrote this musical setting of the Latin Gloria in 1974. It features a brilliant brass accompaniment to this song of the angels. Indeed, as you listen, you can imagine the pageantry and the wonder of the angels’ praise as the shepherds stood transfixed in awe.

Gloria in excelsis Deo                     Glory to God in the highest

The piece is bookended by the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo” set in a grand, contemporary style with lots of syncopation (stress on the weak beat) in the brass parts and much use of the big timpani drums.

Et in terra pax                                         And on earth peace

Hominibus bonae voluntatis                          To men of good will

The style abruptly changes with the text, “Et in terra pax” as we literally hear the peace in the gentle harmonies of the choir.

Laudamus te                                            We praise thee

Benedicimus te                                          We bless thee

Adoramus te                                            We worship thee

Glorificamus te                                          We glorify thee

The running continual eighth note accompaniment in this section is a musical allusion to our unending praise to God for the gift of His Son.

Gratias agimus tibi                        Thanks we give to thee

Propter magnam gloriam                  Because of Thy great glory

Big, thick, six and seven-part chords express thanks for the lavish abundance of God in the giving of His Son by whom we are filled with all the fullness of God.  The syncopated, accented brass accompaniment that reappears reminds me of the unexpected gifts and grace of God in the lives of His children.

Gloria in excelsis Deo                     Glory to God in the highest

The piece ends as it began, with a grand statement of praise to God, this time building in intensity as each voice part enters into the song of the ages, fitting for the angels to sing at Christ’s birth and fitting for us to sing as we celebrate His coming and look forward to His coming again.