Composer Frederick Delius once said that music is the outburst of the soul. An outburst, as in eruption, explosion, rush, gale, flood, torrent, outflowing, a welling up. I’ve been listening to such musical soul-exploding outbursts for the last couple of days. Since Spotify Wrapped 2020 named Yodel Beat from the Trolls World Tour as my top song for 2020, I figured it was time to get back to my roots.
So last night, I was making reindeer noses with my three-year-old grandson. Christmas cookies always look and taste better when not made by me, but I can slap a Rolo on a pretzel with the best of them. Little man was on a roll, talking non-stop, counting and re-counting all the bad words he’s not allowed to say anymore. We bandied about possible alternative interjections that wouldn’t get him expelled from daycare as he ate his weight in peppermint M&Ms. He cycled back to the top of the bad word list, so as a diversion, I pulled up Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus on my phone and turned the volume to max. His response was priceless. After yelling – it’s the hawayuyah song! – two or twelve times and the top of his lungs, he fell into a sort of trance and listened carefully until the end. We listened again and again – every so often, he would sing his own hawayuyahs. Handel’s glorious outburst caused his little soul to erupt and Nana’s tears to well up.
Yesterday morning, as I lit the candles and settled into the quiet with my Bible and coffee, I turned to the Choir of Westminister Abbey for background music. But the music immediately took front and center with the old carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing – a song rich with history, beauty, and theology. It played repeatedly, and I wept from joy at the words: Peace on earth and mercy mild/God and sinners reconciled.
This carol, originally entitled Hymn for Christmas Day, was penned in 1739 by Charles Wesley, one of Methodism’s founding ministers, just a year after committing his life to follow Jesus. Some years later, another founding Methodist minister, George Whitely, got involved in perfecting the lyrics – notably changing Wesley’s first line: Hark how all the WELKIN rings to Hark the herald ANGELS sing. I think we can all be grateful for that.
Charles Wesley wrote over 6000 hymns. Through his lyrics, he taught theology to the illiterate and the poorest of the poor, illuminating the path to God and revealing his healing, redeeming love for humankind. Hark the Herald Angels Sing is a prime example.
Its music was adapted from a cantata written by none other than Felix Mendelssohn in 1840 to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s world-changing invention, the movable type printing press.
Wesley, Whitefield, Mendelsohn, Gutenberg. What a rich legacy, wrapped up in a Christmas carol that we dust off once a year and sing without much thought to its meaning or origins.
Hail the Heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son 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
Hark! the herald angels sing:
“Glory to the newborn King!”
I have been following Jesus for decades, and still, this ancient carol instructs me in profound truth, unleashing a rush of tears in a torrent of gratitude and praise. I was once so far away from God. Now I am united with him, through no work or merit of my own, but simply because God is love. Hawayuyah!
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. – Colossians 1:15-20