Christmas Carols–one of my favorite parts of the holiday season!
In our family, we have a tradition that we can’t really start listening to them until after Thanksgiving. (I should say that I, MYSELF have grown up with that tradition, and like it…but many of my family like listening to radio stations that play ‘all Christmas music, all the time’ after Halloween, so…).
Anyway, I love the music of Christmas, and while it’s always fun to find an artist who has recorded an entirely new Christmas song, I think the old Christmas Carols–especially the Christmas Hymns–are the best.
One of my favorites is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”
For me personally, this was one of ‘The Songs’ that changed everything for me!
I was sitting in midnight mass one Christmas Eve, having been going through a difficult time during the prior months, but having recently opened myself up in faith on a much deeper level. I was excited to celebrate Christmas that year, because I felt like I finally ‘understood’ it.
When this song came up and we started singing, the words hit me like never before–how powerful! I especially loved the 3rd verse, “Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die; born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth…” I was excited because I was aware that I, myself, had experienced that ‘second birth’! I knew that it referred to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John, chapter 3. I sang that song that night with everything I had–not just as a celebration of Christmas, but as a real act of worship!
It wasn’t ’till later that I found out the story behind the song. Charles Wesley, a prolific church song writer, was a bit of a ‘reformer’ in the church, often irritating the leaders above him because he pushed for reform so much. One thing he believed was that the ‘theology’–the Biblical foundations of the Church–should be ‘accessible’ to the masses, and he liked to put his theology in song.
In “Hark the Herald”, we have, in essence, the Gospel of Jesus Christ in one song:
He was God “veiled in flesh”, He was born of a virgin, He came to reconcile mankind to God, and that happens in the human heart.
Interestingly, Wesley–being a serious theologian–never wrote that “Herald angels sing”. He knew that singing angels are nowhere in scripture and it irritated him that his song had been changed like this (by George Whitfield, a revivalist preacher in those days). Later, the poem of “Hark, How All the Welkin Rings” was changed by Whitfield, then merged with the music of Felix Mendelssohn by a another songwriter, William Cummings. Wesley and Mendelssohn never met and neither gave permission for the changes, but in either case, the song took off then, and has remained popular today.
Read each stanza of the song and try to understand the meaning behind the words. I have provided some Scriptural support for you. Look the verses up! Celebrate not only a great song, but strong hymn of the faith!
Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King, Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; with the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”. Hark! the Herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (Luke 2:8-14; Luke 19:10, Romans 8:1-3)
Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord! Late in time, behold him come, offspring of the virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased on earth with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel! Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King”! (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Colossians 1:15-20)
Hail, the Heav’n born Prince of Peace; Hail the Son of righteousness! Light and Life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth! Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail the Incarnate Deity! Hark! The Herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (John 3:1-16; Philippians 2: 6-8)
Come, Desire of Nation, come! Fix in us Thy humble home. O, to all Thyself impart, Formed in each believing heart! Hark! the Herald angels sing, “Glory to the Newborn King! Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Hark!” the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (Colossians 1:19-22)
The song has several versions, all of which put the same words together, but in different order.
This Christmas, when you sing it, listen–really listen to the words, and enjoy!
Discuss: What does the ‘second birth’ mean? Have you experienced it? Tell about your experience!
Prayer focus: Thank God for sending His Son to reconcile us to Himself. Thank Him for changing our hearts and lives. Thank Jesus for His willingness to come as a baby, live and die for us and to give Himself completely for us.
In either case