For those that would prefer it, there is an audio track of this blog post although it does not contain the full list of bible references at the end of the post, and you will still need to skip to the end of the text to play the video recording of the carol.
Welcome to this new series of blog posts about Christmas carols.
Although easily taken lightly as part of our culture, Christmas carols are also songs we can and should sing in full understanding of the gospel truths they contain.
Even carols which are less closely linked to Scripture are intended to celebrate the entrance of God into this world in the person of Jesus, and should be sung with joy and worship.
Whether you prefer a quick read, or sitting down with your bible and notebook to fully understand what is being said and where it is rooted in scripture – let this feed your soul and help in worship.
Our First Carol:
We begin our series of blog posts about Christmas carols with “Hark! the herald angels sing”
This is a great Christmas song packed full of Bible references, in praise of the God who became a man, living among us.
Check out some of the information below – then when you have had your fill of that, and are ready to worship, skip to the end and play the rendition done by our very own Cameron Christmas singers
A Bit of History:
Whitfield also contributed the title, as Charles Wesley’s original first line
“Hark! how all the Welkin rings”
doesn’t quite have the same punch.
The most popular tune used for the carol was written by the classical composer Felix Mendelssohn.
Both Charles and George were very familiar with the scriptures, so we would expect numerous and interesting references as we work through the carol. Count them up – and see if you can spot any more that I have missed.
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 the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
“Hark! the herald angels sing” is of course a reference to the appearance of the angels to the shepherds in Luke 2:9-14.
Think a minute – you can almost imagine that the other angels, almost envious of the one sent to proclaim the birth of Jesus to men, eventually can’t hold back any longer and thousands of them join the first one in praising God.
The rest of the first verse picks up phrases spoken either by the first angel or the whole crowd of them – a celebration of the coming of Christ.
Are you joining in?
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Matthew 1:23. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Immanuel and Emmanuel are the same word.
Immanuel points to the Hebrew spelling,
Emmanuel to the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name.
Also pause here to note that scripture is referencing scripture – Matthew is quoting Isaiah 7:14 , which itself has already been referenced earlier in the song.
Son of righteousness / Sun of righteousness
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Malachi 4:2. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.
Notice that the hymn says “Son of Righteousness”
but the quote from Malachi says “Sun of Righteousness”!
Interestingly, Wesley wrote ‘Sun of Righteousness’ quoting Malachi.
It was Whitfield that changed it to ‘Son of Righteousness’.
Enjoy the pun!
Verse 3 of the carol has the word “Mild” – Wesley obviously liked the word, as he also wrote the hymn “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”.
It does describe Jesus some of the time – when expressing compassion to a person in need, for instance, but most of the time he was pretty passionate in his words and actions.
And lots more . . .
Many other verses of the carol have allusions to Scripture in them even though they are not direct quotes.
If you are not familiar with the words then you may prefer to go listen to the carol first, but don’t forget to come back and checkout how many bible verses are packed in there.
I’ll pick out some of those I recognise – but feel free to share any others that occur to you. I’m sure there are many more.
Christ by highest heav’n adored
Isaiah 6:3. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Isaiah 4:28. Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
Late in time behold Him come
Hebrews 1:2. in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Isaiah 7:14. Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
Luke 1:26-27. God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
John 1:14. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Colossians 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form
Philippians 2:7 he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Isaiah 9:6. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Mild He lays His glory by
Philippians 2:7. [Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
1 Corinthians 15:21-22. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Born to give them second birth
John 3:3. Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
This is a great Christmas song full of Bible references, in praise of the God who became a man, living among us.
Whenever you hear it, don’t just hum along with the familiar tune but remind yourself of all of these words of scripture.