One of my all-time favourite songs—Christmas or other times—is “Ere zij God”/”Glory to God” (Psalter Hymnal #214). We’ll surely be singing it again during Christmas Day worship, perhaps other times as well. I had never heard this song until we moved to Canada from Venezuela in 1986. When I first heard it, only the Dutch was sung. As a long-time fixture in Dutch services, this wonderful song gained new life in the English translation made for the 1987 grey Psalter Hymnal.
As the years passed, I thought the Dutch would fade out and the English take over. Yet it still seems in the churches where I’ve worshiped on or around Christmas that most of the people sing it in Dutch—or as near Dutch as a number of definitely UN-Dutch folks in our somewhat diverse congregation attempt. It’s wonderful, if somewhat comical, to hear a Scottish lady work over “In den hoge!” (“in the highest”). More moving still is “een welbehagen,” (rendered “delights in” in English) coming from the lips of Rwanda natives who fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. Their lives for years had found little to delight in. Yet hearing them sing of Christ’s birth in a mightily foreign tongue is surpassingly lovely, albeit a little odd. There is room for all languages in the words of heavenly angels coming to earth.
Now, though, to take a seriously comical (or comically serious) turn, I’ll relate the story of “Ere zij God” that I recently heard from the spouse of a second-generation Canadian of Dutch heritage. This Irishman joined the CRC at marriage. He loves the church, the city they live in and where his wife is director of a Christian Reformed-founded urban ministry. Since he is Irish-born and bred, though, one would expect comedy—serious comedy—from him, if stereotypes ever hold truth.
So the first time this anonymous fellow heard “Ere zij God” one Christmas without benefit of English translation, he was moved to write what he heard in his Irish mind and ear. His rendering starts “I have a car”—and putters and sputters on from there. This newcomer to once-complete Dutchness in North America, produced a comical, irreverent take on a lovely song with deep resonance and memory. His knowing parody can, I suppose, be taken as offensive (spotterij/mockery in my grandmother’s tongue). OR, it can be understood as an unforgettable example of what happens when Gospel beauty in one language and culture is not explained, interpreted—or exegeted—to preach a universal message beyond its origins.
Below I give you the four main phrases of the dubious “translation” and original Dutch. If you honestly believe it is offensive, don’t read on. If, however, you can understand a serious point of learning to communicate the Gospel clearly in all languages, enjoy the Irish humour, savour the wit and withal “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” English or in Paul Gerhardt’s original German—“Lobet den Herren.” My hope is that this Christmas my Irish friend will be singing ”Ere zij God” in some language the Lord God will delight in.
I have a car/Ere zij God.
It's a Honda./In den hoge.
It's not a Ford./Vrede op aarde.
Did I mention a Volkswagen?In de mensen een welbehagen.