Old Language

“Admiration for the new and the innovative may not only affect our estimate of the value of these ancient hymns [found in Luke’s infancy narratives], it may also lead us to value only the new in the hymns and prayers of our day.  The hymns of Luke’s infancy narrative tell us that it is perfectly possible to express joy in the new using the language of the old.  The revered language of our tradition has had a rough go of it in recent years.  The language of tradition is sometimes spurned as an impediment to effective communication.  Hymns and prayers in many of our churches are now full of language that is new—sometimes even shocking.  The example of the hymns of Luke 1 and 2 certainly does not tell us that it is impossible to praise except in the language of the tradition.  Surely there is room for new language in our liturgies.  But the beauty, elegance, and deep spiritual power of the language of tradition can also spring to new and vigorous life.  The praise of Israel and the Christian church is still a mighty river—and we, if we learn its cadences as thoroughly as did the singers of the Lucan infancy hymns, may still be baptized into it.”

Stephen Farris, “The Canticles of Luke’s Infancy Narrative,” in Richard N. Longenecker, ed., Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2001), 110-11.

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