“O Come, All Ye Faithful” was also originally a Roman Catholic hymn, and it has a bit of a bumpy history. Originally written in Latin, but by an Englishman, in 1743, a time when all but the Roman Catholics would have been writing in English, folks were not exactly sure who the author was. At that time it was considered proper to leave liturgical pieces anonymous, since the song wasn’t really meant to be “his” but rather the church’s. Also, since it was in Latin, there was no reason to suspect that it was an Englishman who wrote it. The French began to claim that it was theirs. Some Irish said that they heard it first. Even in England, the tune picked up the name “The Portuguese Hymn” because it was played in the Portuguese chapel in England. This lead people to think that maybe it had been written by someone from Portugal, perhaps even the king! You can read all about the history here, but what seems to be proven (though wikipedia says that “it has been concluded that… probably…”, so take this “probable conclusion” how you will) is that it was written by the English Roman Catholic, John Francis Wade. Wade had spent some time in exile in France, and so the French may well have heard the tune there. He was also in Ireland for a while, so there’s the Irish’s claim. Wade wrote the tune in Latin, and so it was called Adeste Fideles, in 1743. In fact, the song is known by its Latin title in most all official discussions, particularly because this allows it to be shared in the multiple countries that all sing it. Continue reading
Now we’re to the song that those herald angels actually sung. Well, ok, they may not have actually “sung” in Luke 2, but they might as well have. “Angels We Have Heard on High,” while in Latin, contains the correct words of “Glory to God in the highest.” Though it existed earlier in France (no one seems to be quite sure when it was written), it made its way into English hymnody through the 1862 translation by James Chadwick. What’s interesting about this is that it is a Roman Catholic origin. Chadwick was an Irish immigrant to England who became Bishop of Newcastle. He took a popular French carol, changing it a little (a stanza seems to have been left out, but I’m not sure when or how that occurred), and made it into the song we love today. The tune, however, is Protestant, making this song a truly ecumenical creation. Edward S. Barnes was an organist who made his way from fancy Presbyterian and Episcopal churches in New York and Philadelphia to finally settling at 1st Pres. in Santa Monica, CA. He put “Angels” to the famous tune “Gloria” in 1937, giving us that great chorus. Continue reading
1 Corinthians 15:35-49
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
Well here I am again getting my holidays all mixed up. 1 Cor. 15 is certainly an Easter text, and I could give you all a noble-sounding reminder that as Christians we are free not to keep seasons, days, new moons, and the like, but really I’m just trying to finish my ongoing series on the book of First Corinthians. Still, it is not inappropriate to connect Christ’s birth with His resurrection, as each phase of ministry was connected to the other, and the resurrection does have a direct relationship to the incarnation. You see, Christ’s first birth was really a preliminary to his second, as He had come to triumph over death and secure regeneration for all believers, and this required resurrection Continue reading
There’s quite the story behind “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Originally written by Charles Wesley, this hymn was meant to be made up of ten stanzas, each with four lines. Even more, it was originally intended to be sung to “Easter Hymn” (that’s the tune for “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”). Just think of how long that would be, ten stanzas and four alleluias in each one! To make it even more complicated, the famous opening lines (and thus the title!) used to be totally different. Wesley wrote, “Hark, how all the welkin rings, ‘Glory to the King of kings.’” George Whitefield, another famous Methodist and associate of the Wesleys, didn’t like those words, presumably because people had already forgotten what “welkin” meant, and so he changed them to what we have today. Wesley was furious with this for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the fact that “the Herald Angels” did not, in fact, sing “glory to the newborn king.” In fact, they didn’t even sing at all! Continue reading
Today we’re going to cover what is perhaps the most popular carol, “Joy to the World.” But did you know that it actually isn’t a Christmas carol at all? Written by Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World” originally appeared in his 1719 The Psalms of David, and it was Watts’s unique take on Psalm 98. The full title of Watts’s song book is The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship, which sounds like a noble effort, but in reality most of the words bear only a slight resemblance to the Biblical text. Watts began his project in a time when many Puritans only allowed for the use of the Psalms in worship music (no other songs of any kind), and his title makes it clear that the goal was to “Christianize” the psalms, making the person of the Savior explicit. In retrospect, Watts actually managed to supplant the use of Psalms in worship altogether, as most of his hymns are paraphrases at best and their popularity cleared the way for even less-textually based worship songs in the future. As an extended result, there aren’t many psalm-singing churches left at all, not even among the Presbyterians. But that is another conversation for a less happy occasion. Today we’ll stick to the fun stuff. Continue reading
Speaking of John Mason Neale, my favorite carol to sing is his “Good Christian Men Rejoice.” As we said, Neale was predominately a translator, though he had no problem employing an aggresive sort of “dynamic equivalent” approach that often fell into paraphrase. Such is the case with this song. The original was a mash-up of German and Latin titled “In Dulci Jubilo,” written by the German mystic Heinrich Seuse in 1328. You can read about his story here, but my favorite part is that he received a heavenly vision instructing him to compose a song about the baby Jesus. He constructed a masterpiece. The tune is also very old, dating back at least to 1400, which makes it one of the most ancient of all hymns still in currency today, Christmas carols or otherwise. Of course, most of us change it up considerably, but it’s still an impressive tradition. Continue reading
For the 2nd Day of Christmas, I thought I would cover a slightly unorthodox carol. “Good King Wenceslas” is set “on the Feast of Stephen” (which is today), and there are so many fun things about it. The song, which was actually included in a book of Christmas Carols in 1853, was written by the popular and prolific hymn-writer John Mason Neale. Neale was an Anglican priest and scholar, as well a sort of cultivator of ancient hymnody. He wrote original pieces, but his most famous works are all translations (the Presbyterian Trinity Hymnal has 13 hymns with Neale listed as author, but all but two are translations). You’ve probably never noticed, but it was Neale who translated “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain,” “The Day of Resurrection,” and “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation.” Not a bad resume, to say the least. “Good King Wenceslas” was an original, however, and, though lovable in its way, it is not on the same level as those treasures just listed. In fact, there’s a fairly large body of criticism of “Good King Wenceslas” out there, upset with both its hagiographical lyrics and its barbarous tune-pairing. Continue reading
Over the next two weeks I’d like to highlight some of my favorite Christmas carols. Since the 12 Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and last until Twelfth Night, I’m actually a day early, but I don’t plan on doing any sort of work, not even blogging, tomorrow, so I figured I’d start early. The first one will be “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman.”
I like “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” because of the minor mode (I like pretty much anything in a minor key), but also because of the rich and unique words. As with most hymns and carols, the number of stanzas differs from place to place, and you might even find, to much chagrin, that a few words get changed here and there. Most versions of this carol have five stanzas, but some have less. A few even have as many as eight! I’ll just stick with the first stanza and the refrain, since they are the most famous.
God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.
The first thing to note is the grammar of the opening line. It is not actually “God rest ye, merry gentlemen,” as most people assume. It is instead, “God rest ye merry, gentlemen.” The “gentlemen” are being addressed, and the song is wishing that God will “rest” them “merry.” The verb “rest” simply means “to be” or “make,” much like we might tell someone to “Rest assured.” And so what’s being sung is a request for God to make us merry. Why? Well, that’s what the rest of the song is about.
I also appreciate this carol’s inclusion of Satan. The big man downstairs is too often left out of the Christmas season, but that just can’t be. In a certain sense, Satan is the reason behind the “reason for the season.” He was the one who held all mankind under his sway, causing the people to dwell in darkness and needing to be set free. It was Satan who Christ came to defeat, and that meant that Christ had to come. So I say, “Keep the Satan in Christmas.” You really can’t tell the story any other way.
Never forget, the gospel is good news in the face of bad news. It is salvation from sin and death. Jesus is God’s answer to sorrow, suffering, alienation, and despair. Christmas has to have room in its story for the darkness, or else it becomes just one more romance among the many sentimental stories we tell this time of year. But of course, Christmas is also the story of how Light came into the darkness and filled it from within.
And that’s precisely what gives us hope, what gives us comfort and joy. We remember that Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day. That’s good news. Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Merry Christmas, y’all.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
The prologue of John’s gospel is as majestic as it is mysterious. The Apostle is giving us a picture of deity, a view from eternity, as well as what it means for that Eternity to enter into time. John is telling us that God became man, and this message can find no more appropriate time of the year than Christmas. As we celebrate so many things: family, gifts, and love, let us remember the foundation of it all. God loved us so much that He gave us His son so that we might become His children. In response, we should show forth His son to the world so that they too might become children of God through faith in His name. Continue reading
It’s funny how trends change, and it’s even funnier how church trends change. There was once a time when Presbyterian intellectuals made the argument that agrarian living was better than city-living. John Murray said this went back to the city’s founding-father, Cain, and the Southern Presbyterians often argued that agrarian living allowed one to be most human, in touch with the soil and protecting a certain “slow” pace that left time for community, literature, and family. If you can believe it, there was even a time when GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc argued that the suburbs were closest to the Christian ideal, allowing modern man to retain his economic freedom while yet also giving him his own space for land and a family. Now of course, the city is all the rage.
We are told that the church is itself a city, a “polis,” that the Biblical vision of the future is urban, that Paul’s missionary strategy was urban, and that the city is more receptive to the gospel. All of this is true, in a way, but it is also a bit over-hyped. Continue reading