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Words: John Cawood (b. Mar. 18, 1775; d. Nov. 7, 1852)
Music: Bethany (or Smart) by Henry Thomas Smart (b. Oct. 26, 1813; d. July 6, 1879)
Note: The Cyber Hymnal lists no fewer than seven possible tunes for this hymn. Not all of them seem suitable to the joyous mood of the carol. Further, treated in a four-line format it seems truncated, and becomes repetitious if all six stanzas are used. Some books I’ve seen use three eight-line stanzas (as below) sung to Henry Smart’s superior tune. Click on it (♬) in the Cyber Hymnal link and you’ll see how well it works.
John Cawood was the son of a poor English farmer, who was unable to provide an education for his son. But in spite of this, the son mastered the classics and graduated from Oxford, serving as a clergyman in the Anglican Church for many years. His Christmas hymn, which he entitled simply, “For Christmas Day,” is one of seventeen hymns he wrote. It was first published either in 1819 or 1816.
1) Hark! what mean those holy voices,
Sweetly sounding through the skies?
Lo! the angelic host rejoices
Heavenly hallelujahs rise.
Listen to the wondrous story,
Which they chant in hymns of joy;
“Glory in the highest, glory;
Glory be to God most high!”
If Jesus were a mere human being, simply a wise teacher, an itinerant rabbi who lived and died long ago, then the motivation for His coming would have rested with Joseph and Mary. In other words, if His was a natural birth, then He did not choose to be born. His presence on earth was not His doing but theirs. But the Bible will not allow us to come to that conclusion.
The conception of Christ was not natural, but supernatural. The Lord sent a message to Joseph that, “that which is conceived in her [Mary] is of the Holy Spirit….‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us” (Matt. 1:20, 23). Jesus’ life did not begin at conception. The prophet was able to say of Him that “His goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2).
From the beginning, “the Word [Christ] was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Yet He “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). (The word “robbery” there means clutching onto something, the way a miser clings to his gold.) The Bible is saying that the Lord Jesus did not cling to all the honour eternally His as a member of the triune Godhead. He willingly set His heavenly glory aside, in order to take upon Himself our humanity.
But why? Here is the answer the Word of God gives us over and over.
Jesus said of Himself that he came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3), “nor is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). That is precisely why the angel’s message at His birth was “good tidings of great joy” (Lk. 2:10). The good news was, “There is born to you this day…a Saviour who is Christ the Lord” (vs. 11).
2) Peace on earth, good will from heaven,
Reaching far as man is found;
Souls redeemed, and sins forgiven;
Loud our golden harps shall sound.
Christ is born, the great Anointed;
Heaven and earth His praises sing:
O receive whom God appointed,
For your prophet, priest and king.
What response can we give to such a unique and wonderful event? So much about the Christmas season has been usurped by the world. Not that decorating the house, having parties, and giving gifts is wrong. Not that we can’t enjoy the fictional stories such as Dickens’ classic work about Scrooge. But there is a tendency for the birth of Christ to get lost or downplayed in it all. More than anything, Christmas ought to be a time when Christians praise and worship God for the coming of our Saviour.
3) Hasten, mortals to adore Him;
Learn His name and taste His joy;
Till in heav’n you sing before Him,
Glory be to God most high!
Let us learn the wondrous story
Of our great Redeemer’s birth;
Spread the brightness of His glory
Till it cover all the earth.
1) What is the most wonderful thing about Christmas for you and your family?
2) What can you do to help make Christmas more a time of worship and praise, in your home?