The Sounds of Christmas
This is what is often referred to has the most special time of the year. One of the things that make this such a special time are the sounds of Christmas. They are wide and are heard from every music style from country, to pop and of course Christian.
The most popular of his over 300 hymns was this one of James Montgomery “Angels, from the Realms of Glory“. Written in 1816 and sung today to the tune of Henry Smarts 1867 hymn “Regent Square”. It has been said-this wonderful hymn of the season is an invitation to have you indelibly touched by this most important event.
In the first stanza, the angels who sang at creation proclaim the Messiah’s birth. In the 2nd stanza, the shepherds, and in the 3rd, the wise men are all encouraged to come and worship Christ the newborn king. In the 4th stanza, we sing of saints who are bending and watching at the altar.
In Luke 2:22-39 we see those saints as Simeon and Anna.
22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord
23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”),
24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
27 So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law,
28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
29 “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation
31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.
34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against
35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
36 Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of (FANUEL) Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity;
37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
39 So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.
However, there is a 5th stanza, which has been omitted over the years and even in many hymnals today it does not exist-
“Sinners, wrung with true repentance, doomed for guilt to endless pains; justice now repeals fine sentence, mercy calls you-break your chains.
Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the new-born king”
In each of these verses, there is a call to worship and that is true of this one.
Just as this wonderful carol developed over time and even went through changes, as do others, this carol has been used to engage with another Christian song that extenuates the glory of God. In the past, it was sung with Hosanna, Praise is Rising.
There are other traditional Christmas hymns such as “Joy to the World”. What an exciting Christmas carol, one that you may have memories of, I know I do. Singing in a school choir for a Christmas presentation in the Lunch Room of my elementary school as a child.
In 1719 Isaac Watts wrote this as a hymn in imitation of Psalm 98:4-9
4 Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
5 Sing to the Lord with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a psalm,
6 With trumpets and the sound of a horn;
Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.
7 Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
8 Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together
9 before the Lord,
For He is coming to judge the earth,
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity.
There is usage of words from that Psalm and yet it is difficult to see it in the hymn and of the 4 stanzas of the carol only the first relates to the birth of Christ. Completely the others could appear at any other time of the year. We hear nothing of the things we think of in a Christmas carol.
There is no Mary or Joseph, no star and shepherd, no manger and its infant, no wise men to worship the babe. For over 120 years, it was sung to many different common tunes. Then in 1839 a New England musician named Lowell Mason published a tune for the words of the hymn. He borrowed two musical phrases from Handel’s Messiah (“Lift up your heads” and “Comfort Ye”). Weaving them into a Christmas classic for all to enjoy with hope for the world. It is interesting that Mason did not name the hymn by its title today. Rather he called it Antioch, for that was the city from which Paul departed for his first two missionary journeys and where they were first called Christians.
The Sounds of Christmas are important and make the season so very special for us all. As we hear them this Christmas season, they will lighten our hearts and focus our hearts on the One for whom we celebrate His birth, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
Wishing you and your families a very happy and Merry Christmas.
In God’s Grace,