Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hymn of the Week: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

This is perhaps the most beloved Christmas hymn in America. The words were written by Charles Wesley, who is said to have written over 6000 hymns. lists 265 of them in its database which are set to music, including such well-known texts as Arise, My Soul, Arise; Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus; Love Divine, All Loves Excelling; and this one.

Felix Mendelssohn wrote the music. The original tune was written as part of a secular cantata in 1840, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press. Mendelssohn's other universally-recognized musical work? His "Wedding March," which has accompanied many brides down church aisles. Interestingly, Mendelssohn was Jewish and wrote a great deal of religious music...and this was not one of those many pieces!

Wesley's words and Mendelssohn's music were "wed" by William H. Cummings and first appeared in an 1857 hymnal. Both the words and the music were a little bit altered from the respective original works. The most famous four verses of the hymn are given below. You may be familiar with one or more variations.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:13-14)
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 th’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 th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.


Hail the heav’nly 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.


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.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.


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