December 27, 2022

Christmas and Advent Hymns and their Story

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

This beautiful, stirring, formula of praise first appeared in John and Charles Wesley’s “Hymns and Sacred Poems” [London, 1739], under the heading “Hymn for Christmas Day”. Originally it said, “Hark how all the welkin rings…”. The “welkin” refers to more than just the angels of heaven – but all the “vault of heaven”. In other words, we are being asked to join in a cosmic celebration.
Charles Wesley sought to do more than just “sparkle about Christ’s birth”, but to share the Gospel message: Christ was born to die, and in that death, he would reconcile sinners to the Father in heaven. Verse 1 opens with the song of the angels from Luke 2:13-14; “and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Verse 2 opens up singing about the great teaching about the incarnation: “veiled in flesh the Godhead see”, and “pleased as Man with man to dwell.” The idea that in Jesus, in this manner, we can look upon Him and finally se God with our own eyes was beyond magnificent.
Verse 3 calls Him the Prince of Peace and “Sun of Righteousness”. We are given the threefold purpose of our Lord’s birth: that man will die no more; to raise the sons of earth; and to give them second birth.
Who would have thought we could learn so much from such a beautiful hymn.

p.s. – The tune we all know, love, and sing so strongly, was penned by the great composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1840, on occasion of the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s printing press [the first with movable type]. The great composer died of a stroke, sadly, at the age of 38; never knowing the impact he has had on our lives, every Christmas, even 180 years later. Oh, the joy this song has brought to our lives.

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!”

LSB 380

One Comment