Advent Calendar | Dec. 20

5 Days Until Christmas




“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of God stood before them, and the glory of God shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!’” (Luke 2:8-14)



'The Angels Appearing to the Shepherds,' William Blake, 1809.

‘The Angels Appearing to the Shepherds,’ William Blake, 1809 / WikiPaintings

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,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n 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.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son 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.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”



The original form of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” as written by Charles Wesley was made up of ten four-line verses, rather than the eight-line verses and refrain we have now. Published in 1739 as a Christmas hymn, it began with the lines: “Hark how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of kings.” “Welkin” is an old Anglo-Saxon word for “the vault of heaven where the angels dwell.”

A contemporary of Wesley, George Whitfield, changed those first lines to “Hark the herald angels sing / Glory to the newborn king” in 1753 and in so doing changed the emphasis of whom the angels are praying. For Wesley, they praised God (the “King of kings), mirroring the scripture in Luke. For Whitfield, they praised Jesus (the “newborn King”). Wesley strongly opposed this change in theology.

Whatever the original music, if any, we now sing the lyrics to music written by Felix Mendelssohn and adapted by William Cummings. Mendelssohn wrote the song “Festgesang an die Kunstler” to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Gutenberg printing press. He was adamant that his music not be used for religious purposes, but more than 100 years later, Cummings adapted it for use with Wesley’s lyrics.





May our ears be filled with the sound of singing angels. May our mouths shout out praise to you, O God. Amen.

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