Sunday, 09 December 2007 00:00

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

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 angelic hosts proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.

The theme for this series revolves around the statement "You end up believing what you spend time singing." The human voice is a significant extension of who we are. It is something about which we can feel very vulnerable. Any criticism or singling out can shake one's confidence in singing and, as a result, there comes the loss to effect change in ourselves and others. In Steven Mithen's book The Singing Neanderthals, the author points out that Charles Darwin believed that Neanderthals, unable to wood with words, "endeavored to charm each other with musical notes and rhythm." This morning I hope you are "charmed" with the music and words of what Spurgeon calls "The First Carol."

  1. This is the original "Green" Christmas carol.
    For something to be "green" means it is related to, or advocates, ecological awareness. The original title of this song was Hark How the Welkin Rings. "Welkin" is an archaic term for heaven or the vault of the sky. Charles Wesley, the author of this hymn, in 1739 wasn't thinking about angels singing, but the sky declaring the news. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the sky above displays his handiwork. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard" (Psalm 19:1-2). Somehow the entire heavens and the earth are tied to the incarnation and redemption of Christ Jesus. "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 24:1). All of creation portrays the message of Christ... From the stars in heaven, to what we call "earth," to the animals and people who populate earth, it is all His. When you care for the earth, you give ringing testimony to our Lord's birth.
  2. This is the original "Mean" Christmas carol.
    How did "Hark, How the Welkin Rings" morph into "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"? This was the editorial change of Charles Wesley's close friend and fellow pastor, George Whitefield. Whitefield omitted a couple of verses and changed the first line. Quickly Whitefield's version caught on, far outstripping Wesley's original in popularity. Wesley was angry. He didn't approve of Whitefield's assertion that angels sang since the text says the angels "said." Christmas cheer turned into a jeer. "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32. Charles forgave and at George's funeral on October 2, 1770, Charles praised his departed friend in a poem 536 lines long; his longest ever. When you forgive a friend, you show forth our Savior's intended end.
  3. This is the original "Teen" Christmas carol.
    Charles had specifically stated that this hymn required solemn, slow music, but in 1855, after Charles died, a musician named William Cummings married the revised version of "Hark" to the music of Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn had written a joyous piece of music for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the inventing of printing. Cummings took this music and adapted it. Many people said, "It will never do to have sacred words with secular tunes." But it happened, and—magic appeared. Be flexible in your methodology; others will wind up loving your Christology.

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