Day 25: Joy to the World

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

For me, it’s the ultimate Christmas hymn. And I’m not alone. As of the late 20th century, this was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. It was first published in 1719 by Isaac Watts, and was written as a poetic exposition of Psalm 98:

Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the LORD, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
(Psalm 98 ESV)

I hope you have enjoyed reading The 25 Hymns of Christmas as much as I have enjoyed writing them, and that they have been a blessing to your Christmas season. Thanks for reading!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Day 24: O Come, All Ye Faithful

In my earlier days as a pastor, I chose the hymns to be sung for each worship service. I could easily spend hours each week reading texts and reviewing tunes so that the three hymns fit as well as possible thematically and emotionally with the sermon. And in those days, today’s hymn was always the opener for the Christmas Eve service, so I have saved it for today. You may or may not sing it tonight as you worship and adore Christ the Lord, but I do hope you plan to worship with God’s people.

I always chose this hymn to open Christmas Eve because it’s an invitation to approach and worship Jesus, the king of angels, God of God and Light of Light, the Word of the Father:

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels:

Chorus:
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

God of God,
Light of Light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God,
Begotten, not created:

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of Heaven above!
Glory to God
In the highest:

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing!

The words I have highlighted in the hymn draw attention to the imagery used by John in the prologue of his gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
(John 1:1-18 ESV)

Day 23: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

Today’s carol was first written as a poem by Edmund Sears, in 1849, at the request of his friend, William Parsons Lunt, who was pastor of the United First Parish Church in Quincy, Massachusetts. Its first public appearance was in the Christian Register in Boston on December 29, 1849. A year later, the accompanying tune was composed by Richard Storrs Willis, who studied under Felix Mendelssohn.

The thing I love about this carol is that it doesn’t stop with the first Christmas Day. It’s a very good reminder that the angels who were appointed to sing the glory of the birth of Jesus are eternally appointed to serve people. As Hebrews 1:14 reminds us, “angels are (only) servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation. “(NLT)

The stanzas move chronologically and logically through the ages, from Christmas to today to the promise of heaven. While angels appear to be the focus, in reality they are simply the thread. The human condition, the need for God’s presence, and the assurance that He always is present is the true theme.

Take this one slow, one stanza at a time, and end each with a short and simple prayer of thanks.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Day 22: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Only around since 1962, this Christmas song has been recorded by hundreds of artists. Not actually a hymn or carol, and not overtly theological, I immediately found myself relating the lyrics to Psalm 148. Both the song and the Word involve the praise of God by all creation – from critters to celestial bodies – all pointing to and singing about the greatest gift of God, the delivery of His salvation.

I’ll leave it at that today, for your own prayer and meditation:

THE SONG

Said the night wind to the little lamb, “Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky little lamb, Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night,
With a tail as big as a kite, with a tail as big as a kite.”

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, “Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky shepherd boy, do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song, sounding through the night,
With a voice as big as the sea, with a voice as big as the sea.”

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, “Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm mighty king, do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child, shivers in the cold,
Let us bring Him silver and gold, let us bring Him silver and gold.”

Said the king to the people everywhere, “Listen to what I say.
Pray for peace people everywhere, listen to what I say.
The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night,
He will bring us goodness and light, He will bring us goodness and light.”

 THE WORD

Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
Praise the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling his word!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
old men and children!
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his saints,
for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 148 ESV)

Day 21: Angels We Have Heard on High

At first glance, this Christmas carol doesn’t appear to have a whole lot of theological depth. It’s just a re-telling of the events of the nativity in four stanzas. In fact, this old French carol doesn’t even have a known author; it’s anonymous.

And yet…

And yet, in the refrain that follows each of the stanzas, there is a simple but profound Latin phrase that is both proclamation and invitation:

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria in excelsis Deo!

The English translation is “Glory to God in the Highest!” It’s the song the angels sang to the shepherds, recorded in Luke 2:14. That’s the proclamation part.

The invitation part is that we are invited to sing the same song with our lives. It’s why we were created – to glorify God. Not just in a weekly worship service. Not just by singing. But by living.

Paul said it this way in one of my favorite paragraphs in all scripture:

Because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God,
for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.
God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ
would bring praise and glory to God. 

(Ephesians 1:11-12 NLT)

Most of those reading this post aren’t Jews, I suppose, but they were the original audience of this letter. All who read it now as believers, however, are to hear the same message: God’s purpose in saving us through Christ was that we would bring praise and glory to God. It’s why He created us and why he saved us. It was and is and always will be first and foremost about Him.

In 1 Peter 4, Peter describes the various gifts that God has given each of us, and calls us to use them with gusto. He ends the paragraph by saying:

Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies.
Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.
All glory and power to HIm forever and ever! Amen.

(1 Peter 4:11 NLT)

Paul echoes this sentiment in Romans 6:13:

Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin.
Instead, give yourselves completely to God,
for you were dead, but now you have new life.
So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.

And again in 1 Corinthians 10:31:

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,
do it all for the glory of God.

Gloria in Excelsis Deo! Glory to God in the highest! It’s why we were created. It’s why God sent Jesus at Christmas. It’s what we’ll be doing for eternity.

Might as well get started!

Day 20: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Part 3 of 3)

This is the only hymn or carol that will get three entries. It’s not that there aren’t great texts in the others – as we’ve clearly seen, there are! But this hymn is so rich in the weaving together of nativity and passion, song and scripture, that I really wanted each stanza to receive its own due.

This is the third of three stanzas in this classic Charles Wesley composition. The first two were featured on December 3 and December 13.

The remarkable imagery in the first half of the stanza comes from Malachi 4, the final chapter of the Old Testament. In this chapter – the last time the people of God will hear anything from the Lord for the next 400 years – there is a promise: God will vindicate his people. Those who have been faithful will be remembered on the great and coming Day of the Lord:

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven,
when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.

The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts,
so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

But for you who fear my name,
the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.

You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
(Malachi 4:1-2 ESV)

Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail the sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings.

The second half of the stanza equates the keeping of this promise with the birth of Jesus. It explains the reason for his birth, which as I hope you’ve seen by now, is to die. Because only by his death is it possible that we no more may die. Only by his resurrection can he promise us that we will be raised. Only by being born again in him may we truly have life.

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that we no more may die,
Born to raise each child of earth,
Born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king!”

The final thing this hymn does – in each of the three stanzas, is call us to give glory to the newborn King. Glory! A great word that pretty much sums up the reason for our existence. Let’s talk about that tomorrow, shall we?

 

Day 19: Hallelujah Chorus

The Messiah is an oratorio composed in 1741 by George Friedrich Handel, using texts from the King James Version of the English Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. It was first performed on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, and premiered in London the following year. While not overwhelmingly received initially, this oratorio has gone on to become one of the world’s best-known and most-performed choral works in western music.

The Hallelujah Chorus concludes the second of the three parts of the oratorio, and derives its text solely from the Book of Revelation. To watch and listen, click HERE.
I’ve interspersed the Hallelujah text and its accompanying scripture  below.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude,
like the roar of many waters
and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.”
Revelation 19:6

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

Revelation 11:15

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever.

On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written,
King of kings and Lord of lords.

Revelation 19:16

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!