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Advent Devotional 17 • Luke 2:13

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God...  - Luke 2:13 

Advent Devotional SeriesAnd suddenly there appeared with the angel a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God...  

- Luke 2:13

Whether it is George Bailey and his family or Charlie Brown and his crew, when you hear little voices belt out “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” you can't help but smile.

How did the song get here?

Hark the Herald Angels Sing reached prominence by a circuitous route.

The tune, which initially had nothing to do with Christmas, was composed in 1840 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) as the second movement of his Gutenberg Cantata. Mendelssohn wrote this work for the Leipzig Gutenberg Festival, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press. I suspect you can hear the music in your head as you read the tune's original refrain:

“Gutenberg, du wackrer Mann, du stehst glorreich auf dem Plan!” “Gutenberg, you valiant man, you stand glorious on the square!”

Mendelssohn hoped to publish his Gutenberg tune with English words, but he couldn't find a text to suit him. In an 1843 letter to Edward Buxton, his English music publisher, Mendelssohn explained: “If the right [words] are hit at, I am sure that the piece will be liked very much by singers and hearers, but it will never do to sacred words….”

In 1847, Mendelssohn directed the London premiere of his oratorio Elijah, and one of the alto choirboys was William Cummings. Unbeknownst to Mendelssohn, in the 1850s, Cummings would attach his Gutenberg tune to a sacred poem called “Hymn for Christmas Day,” written by Charles Wesley.

The first line of Wesley's poem is, of course, “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 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 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!”

Pastor Chris

Paper Sunday is blessed to collaborate with Chris Harper on this Advent Devotional Series.

Chris Harper is a speaker, writer, and disciple-maker. Chris is President of 252Edu, a consulting firm based in Dallas, Texas. Chris serves schools, churches, and non-profits by helping them "grow in wisdom, favor and stature with God and man.”

When not taking ground for King Jesus, you can find Chris on the basketball court playing a pick-up game. Chris is a sneakerhead, an avid reader, and loves a good cheeseburger. You can follow him @252consulting on Instagram. 

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