Home Worship Planning Music Resources Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (Original)

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (Original)

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, is sung enthusiastically and often at Christmas. Here is some background information on the beloved carol.

History

  • The text is based on Luke 2:8-14, the portion of the familiar Christmas story that includes the angels and shepherds.
  • It first appeared in the Wesley hymnal, Hymns and Sacred Poems, in 1739. It was originally composed as ten verses with the title, Hymn for Christmas Day.
  • The version in our hymnal is not Wesley's original. It has been altered numerous times by numerous editors. One of the earliest and most significant was the alteration by George Whitefield in his 1753 Collection of Hymns for Social Worship, changing the first line, "Hark how all the welkin rings!" to "Hark! the herald angels sing." "Welkin" is a mostly obsolete word today, meaning the sky; the vault of heaven.
  • While it is recognized today as one of Wesley's greatest hymns, John Wesley did not include it in his 1780 Collection of Hymns for Use of the People Called Methodist.
  • It first appeared in a Methodist hymnal in 1786. Earlier publications from 1754 paired the text with the tune Salisbury, included in the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal as Easter Hymn (#302, "Christ the Lord is risen today"). Some American hymnals also paired, Hark! the herald with Salisbury, sometimes renamed Christmas Day. The 1966 Methodist Hymnal attempted to rejoin, Hark! the herald with Salisbury/Easter Hymn as #387, but also printed the text with the familiar Mendelssohn tune as #388. The attempt failed to gain a following.
  • Theological controversy arose when the 1935 Methodist Hymnal replaced the virgin birth in stanza 2 with "Long desired, behold him come, finding here his humble home." The 1966 hymnal restored the virgin language, "off-spring of a virgin's womb," using Whitfield's "the virgin" instead of Wesley's "a virgin."
  • Other 1989 hymnal changes include stanza 2 "as man with men" to "with us in flesh"; stanza 3 "man" to "we"; and stanza 3 "born to raise the sons of earth" to "born to raise us from the earth."
  • United Methodist (1989) hymnal editor Carlton Young writes of this hymn as being "much more than just a Christmas hymn, this is a hymn on "humankind's recreation, reformation, and reconciliation in the life and witness of Jesus Christ."

Wesley's Original Text Hark how all the welkin rings!:


Glory to the King of kings,
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say:
Christ the Lord is born to Day.

Christ by highest heaven 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 men to appear,
Jesus! Our Immanuel here!

Hail the heavenly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen 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 conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent's head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore,
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam's likeness, Lord, efface;
Stamp Thy image in its place;
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee the life, the inner Man;
O! to all Thyself impart,
Form'd in each believing heart.

Tune

  • The melody is from the second chorus of Mendelssohn's cantata Festgesang, composed in 1840 for male chorus and brass to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Johannes Gutenberg's invention of printing by moveable type.
  • The tune first appeared in Methodist hymnals in 1878.

Additional information on Felix Mendelssohn can be found hereandadditional information on Carlton R. Young can be found here.

Source: Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal by Carlton Young. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993

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