One of the marks of being United Methodist is that we sing our theology.
Whether you sing from the hymnal or not, the words of the songs that we sing should reflect the theological theme of the day and be in concert with what the congregation believes about who God is and who we are in relationship to God and each other. The music of the songs sung should evoke the type of emotions that match the mood trying to be created in its place in the service.
So I thought that this year, as we journey toward Christmas, we could think about what some of our favorite Christmas Carols tell us about who we believe Christ to be. The facts in these articles over the next few weeks come from “The Stories of Christmas Carols” by Ernest K. Emurian and published by Baker Books (2002 edition). The opinions expressed are strictly my own and as always, I hope that you will spend enough time with the material to form your own.
Dec. 1 The First Sunday of Advent – Luke 2:8-14
Hark the Herald Angels Sing #240 Verse 2
Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the ever lasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
It seemed right to begin with a carol written by Charles Wesley. Between May 20, 1738 and March 29, 1788, Charles wrote about 6,500 hymns! In 1739, he wrote three of his still most famous hymns, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” While meditating on the birth of Jesus, Charles penned this carol.
The music we use today is by Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was born a Jew but his family later converted to Christianity. This music was commissioned in 1840 for a celebration commemorating the invention of the printing press. In 1855, William H. Cummings, an English Doctor of Music, matched the music to Charles’ words.
In this second verse, Charles reminds us of one of the great paradoxes of Christianity that Jesus is both fully human (born just like all humanity is born) and fully divine (the incarnate Deity). It is because of this seemingly impossible belief that we can place our own hope in Jesus, our Emmanuel or God with Us. Just like us, Jesus was fully human with all the temptation, joy, and pain that brings. He knew what it felt like to be hungry and in pain, sad and disappointed, angry and hurt. He also celebrated at weddings, enjoyed a good meal, and loved his friends. And through it all, he stayed fully immersed in the love and the will of God. He modeled what it would look like to be fully human and created in the image of God.
Because God decided to become human through Jesus, we humans have the hope and the grace to become loving like God! It is this hope that we claim as we sing “Glory to the newborn King!”