Learning the Carols: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

by Hal and Melanie Young | December 13th, 2013

Schnorr von Carolsfeld, From the Bibel in Bildern, 1860

This is one of those hymns that we think we all know, but usually only sing the first verse. This is like nibbling on the salad and walking out on the feast. Charles Wesley packed so much Biblical truth into this carol, you not only don’t want to miss it, but you ought to make sure your children understand it all, too.

We sing all the verses every day, but explain one of the verses each time. That gives us time to really focus on what each verse means. There are some don’t-miss concepts you want to be sure to discuss with your children. This week we’re going to discuss the incarnation, the protoevangelium (hard word, but as soon as we explain, it’ll be really obvious to you!), Christ to the nations, the resurrection, and the Lord as the second Adam. And it’s all there in a carol we all love. This week, we’ll be posting each day’s devotional explanation of one of the verses, so you can use it with your own children!

(The entire carol is included at the bottom of the post.)

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

In verse one, explain that “hark” is a way of getting attention, like saying, “Hey!” or “Listen up!”, a herald is one that announces news. The angels aren’t flying about singing, “Hark! Hark!” but instead, the singer is calling to his friends “Hey, listen! The angels are singing!”

And what are they singing about? These were the angels that brought news to the shepherds and very important news it was:  the Messiah who would bring reconciliation between God and man had been born. You can explain reconciliation by talking about a child who disobeys a parent and gets punished, then repents and gets forgiveness.  Christ came to take our punishment so we could be forgiven!

Revelation 19:16 shows Jesus as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” so in this hymn, the angels are shown giving glory to the newborn king. He is also seen as the One who will bring the nations to repentance, not only the chosen people, but all people. Isaiah 56:7 says “For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Ever since we studied the history of Rome for the first time, we have grabbed onto the idea of a Triumph – a victory parade and celebration the Romans would give a conquering hero on his return to Rome – and we do this around the house whenever someone conquers something – a difficult situation, a textbook, some accomplishment. Isn’t it encouraging to think about the triumph of the skies, the rejoicing of the angels in the birth of the Savior that would conquer death and sin?

* * * * *

This Christmas carol is so full of the Word of God, that we could talk about it for pages and pages. I hope you’ll take a few minutes this week to teach this song to your children and more importantly, teach them the Truth that these verses refer to. I like to think about our children hearing this song as they drive down the street or walk in the mall many years from now and these truths come flooding back to their minds and hearts. What a heritage!

Click here to hear the tune.   We’d love to hear what you think about this post! We’re working on a curriculum to help you teach the hymns of the faith to your children, not just the tune and words, but the meaning, without having to search out all these references and definitions yourself. Do you think that would be useful?  Leave us a comment!

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Refrain:

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Refrain

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n 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.

Refrain

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

The last verse above is the version we’ve always sung, although it is a combination of Wesley’s last two verses that makes them a bit more singable with better rhymes and a clearer meaning. In case you are interested in what he originally wrote, these are those verses:

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring 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.

Refrain

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine 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,
Formed in each believing heart.

Refrain

Join us tomorrow to discuss the second verse!

  • Shelli S

    A curriculum with the meaning, and even backstories, about well known hymns would be wonderful! Thanks for this great resource on a favorite carol.

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