Yesterday, I pointed out some flaws in the lyric of “The First Noel.” Today, I’m looking at a carol that our pastor says is very theologically sound: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
This song really gets down to the brass tacks (guess I’ll have to do a word study of that phrase, too) of the Incarnation. It was written by Charles Wesley and first published in 1739 under the title “A Song for Christmas-Day.” The original opening line was “Hark! How all the welkin rings” which sent me on a rabbit trail for the meaning of welkin. In short, it’s a Middle English word that literally means cloud or in usage like this, the heavens. Wesley wanted a slow and solemn tune and got it. Over a hundred years later in 1855, William Cummings paired it with a melody taken from a cantata that Felix Mendlessohn had written back in 1840. It’s hard to visualize it any other way.
Wesley captures the dramatic proclamation of the angel and the song of the heavenly host. He also doesn’t hold back on his description of the purpose and significance of the coming of the Christ. Almost every line has a deep meaning from the scriptures.
Some have asked why “Sun of Righteousness” is spelled with a u rather than an o. Wesley is actually referring to Malachi 4:2. You will see it spelled Son in some versions, today and even the 1758 version had Son of Righteousness in it.
The carol is rich in theology and rousing to hear it sung by a great choir and congregation.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
1 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 th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King.”
2 Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel. [Refrain]
3 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.
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. [Refrain]
Here are a couple of verses that were in the original but not included in most current versions:
Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in Us thy humble Home,
Rise, the Woman’s Conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in Us the Serpent’s Head.
Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.
Adam’s Likeness, LORD, efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place,
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy Love.
Let us Thee, tho’ lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Inner Man:
O! to All Thyself impart,
Form’d in each Believing Heart
Here is a version of Natalie Cole singing it with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I just heard today that she passed away.