Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 31: Songs for the Seasons

Hark the herald angels sing

When Charles Wesley (1707-88) first wrote this carol it had ten verses, and he  requested that it be sung to a solemn tune. Fortunately, it was pruned drastically and altered by, among others, George Whitfield (1714-70) and Martin Madan (1726-90). Wesley’s first version had begun “Hark how all the welkin rings”, which somehow doesn’t hit the spot quite as well!
Contrary to Wesley’s instruction it was eventually set to a splendid tune by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47). It has become an indispensable part of Christmas to many people. 

It is a celebration of the Incarnation, the belief that in Christ we see God’s very essence. That essence may be “veiled in flesh” but that does not lessen its glory. The truly wonderful thing, according to Wesley, is that Jesus’ birth changes everything, giving us “second birth”. We receive a new start in his love; we are reconciled to God and to one another. His resurrection will defeat death for us all. He is the one who will show us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, and it all starts here, as “Christ is born in Bethlehem”. If we compare its theology to that of “ Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling”(Day 4), and you can see that it has come from the same pen. Like that hymn it is a wonderfully hopeful vision of the love of God which heals and renews everything it touches.

Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born 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 new-born King.

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a Virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see:
hail, the incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace:
hail, the Sun of Righteousness.
Light and life to all he brings,
risen 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.

  • ·         What kind of “second birth” do you feel in need of today?

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