Christmas Hymn: Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Editor's Note: Modern hymn writer Keith Getty has written a series of essays, each focusing on a Christmas hymn or carol. This is the third of an 11-part series in Baptist Press.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Charles Wesley's vision for "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" was, ironically, for it to be a somber carol. Yet the wonderfully triumphant melody written by Felix Mendelssohn, a German-Jewish composer, turns it into a celebration.
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled
In this Christmas carol, the lyrics don't just focus on the birth of Jesus, but weave in the foundational purpose behind the incarnation – to reconcile people to God and bring them back into relationship with Him.
George Whitfield may have done an edit to this carol later on but in essence it is Wesley's brilliant lyrics that impart such timeless truths so powerfully. Wesley displays such skill in his lyric writing and achieves something that not many modern worship songs achieve. Everything sings off the tongue so perfectly. The way he constructs each line and his very exacting choice of words appeal to all the senses.
The other thing that Wesley does brilliantly – and this is something that modern hymn writer Stuart Townend does brilliantly too – is knowing when to hit his home run. The last verses are always so climactic and take the singer to a new level of adoration and wonder.
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 new-born King!
It's amazing to think how many millions of people over the last 280 years have sung the gospel and understood it on some level thanks to the brilliant artistry of Charles Wesley.
It's a hymn that, in just three verses, presents the gospel succinctly yet very effectively. First, we exult at Christ's birth and join with the angels as they worship the Christ child, the one through whom God is reconciling all people to Himself.
Then we are reminded of Jesus' heavenly glory and His divinity. The precious incarnation – the one who 'laid His glory by' in order to rescue and redeem.
Christ by highest Heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
And finally, to His resurrection.
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
And we are drawn to focusing our minds on what His birth, death and resurrection have achieved – new birth, new life and an eternal destination that is available to all.
The carol really does comprise a simple and engaging presentation of the gospel that makes it such a crucial part of our witness and declaration of God's plan of salvation at Christmastime. It's an invitation to anyone who will accept it to see beyond the baby in a manger and accept the new life and hope that, through Jesus, we can experience every day.
About Keith & Kristyn Getty
Keith and Kristyn Getty are modern hymn writers whose compositions are sung the world over. For more information on Getty Music and the Sing! initiative, visit www.gettymusic.com.
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.