Today’s Carol of Comfort & Joy is one whose tune you might know from the end of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” As the kids all stand around the scraggly little Christmas tree Charlie Brown has, with its huge red ornament, they start humming a tune that will surely get stuck in your head: it’s the tune to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”.
Charles and John Wesley are known for founding the Wesleyan Methodist Protestant Church, but they are also very well known for giving us beautiful hymns that we’re still singing centuries later. “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” was first found with the title “Hymn for Christmas-Day” in a 1739 collection of hymns by the Wesley brothers. It was based off of Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”
The hymn’s title then became “Hark, how all the Welkin rings” – Welkin being the sky or the heavens – because it was Wesley’s original opening line. How the heavens rang with joy at the birth of Christ! Is there any better way to open a Christmas carol?
In 1754, Anglican cleric George Whitefield thought there might be. He finally gave the song the title, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
But that wasn’t the end of changes to this carol! In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Johannes Gutenberg’s movable printing press, the lyrics of the Christmas carol were adopted for the Festgesang, or “Gutenberg Cantata”. But fitting lyrics to a page wasn’t an easy task: it was up to singer and organist William H. Cummings to make sure they fit with no missing words.
What a great story of joy and celebration! Now, listen to the angelic voices of Embers Academy as they sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”: