Week 14: Christmas



Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Text: Charles Wesley (1707–1788), 1739

Tune: Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), 1840

  1. This hymn, written specifically as a “Hymn for Christmas-Day”, has a grand, triumphant sense to it. What is it about the text and tune that contribute to this feeling?

    • Wesley’s original “welkin” carries a sense of largeness, both in the vastness of the whole celestial heavens, but also in the magnitude of the sound (“make the welkin ring” was a common idiom used to describe a loud noise)
    • The line “Universal Nature say” also points to the all-encompassing nature of Christ’s birth
    • The tune Mendelssohn uses wide intervals and a strong meter for a grand sound
    • “All ye Nations, rise” calls all nations of the earth to proclaim the Good News
  2. Is it proper to have such boisterous, jubilant Christmas music, when only two of the four gospels consider Christmas important enough to include in their narrative? How much effort do we put into Christmas festivities compared to Easter? Is the current balance where it should be?

    • Clearly, the power and significance of Christmas is that it foreshadows Easter.
      • “God and Sinners reconciled”: were they actually reconciled before Christ’s crucifixion?
      • “Born to give us Second Birth”: as Jesus rose from the dead, so too will we
    • On the other hand, Christmas has a long history in the church, though not without opposition.
      • There are no records of Christmas in the earliest church, with its members far more interested in Christ’s second coming than His first.
      • The first recognition of Christ’s birth was in connection with Epiphany on January 6th.
      • In 245, Origen noted that in the Bible, only wicked men are seen celebrating their birthdays (Pharaoh and Herod) while holy men (Jeremiah and Job) curse the day they were born.
      • Celebration of Christmas by the Donatists in North Africa could indicate the institution of Christmas as a church feast happened prior to their split in 311.
      • The placement of Christmas on December 25th in the Catholic church comes from the Chronography of 354 AD, with the Eastern church following later in 388.
      • 17th-century English dissenters (such as Puritans) viewed Christmas celebrations as a Catholic tradition, calling them “trappings of popery”

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Text: Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348–413), c. 405

Tune: Anonymous, c. 950

  1. We noted the relationship between Christmas and the resurrection in “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “We Three Kings”; this hymn explores the relationship between Christmas and creation. Incidentally, the final four verses of Wesley’s original text for “Hark the Herald” also makes this connection. Comparing the two, what similarities and differences do you find? Do these hymns add anything new to your understanding or perception of Christmas?
    • Wesley’s text is still heavily focused on Christ, and Christ as redeemer
      • “Bruise in us the Serpent’s head”
      • Note the chiasmus in verse 8: “Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine”
      • Creation as metaphor: Adam and Eve become Jesus and Mary?
      • Christ the creator later comes to redeem nature: “Ruin’d Nature now restore”
    • Prudentius’ text is unabashedly creedal
      • Recall similarities to “O Come All Ye Faithful”: “true God of true God” … “begotten, not created”
      • The Council of Nicaea met in 325, not long before Prudentius lived
    • Both texts acknowledge:
      • Advent — “Desire of Nations” / “the long expected”

      • Rejoicing nature — “Universal Nature say…” / “let creation praise its Lord”

      • Virgin Mary — “Virgin’s womb … Woman’s Conqu’ring Seed” / “a virgin, filled with grace”

      • The final verse to “Of the Father’s Love” pays tribute to its roots in the “Sanctus” text:

        Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
        Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
        Hosanna in the highest.