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Words: Johannes Daniel Falk (b. Oct. 28, 1768; d. Feb. 14, 1826)
Music: Sicilian Mariners Hymn, composer unknown
Note: Falk wrote the first stanza (O du fröhliche, o du selige) in 1816, to go with two others of his own. But for the present English hymn, only his first stanza is used, and two anonymous ones have been added. The tune, also called O Sanctissima (O most holy) is of unknown origin. German poet Johann Herder heard it on a trip to Italy, 1788-89, linked to a Catholic hymn in praise of Mary. It’s first use with an English hymn followed, several years later.
Falk gives us an example of one who turned early hardship into a ministry as an adult. His family was exceedingly poor. At the age of ten he left school to work with his father who was a wig maker. But Falk was a keen student, and he continued studying on his own. He was eventually awarded a scholarship to university, and distinguished himself as a author.
During the Napoleonic Wars, he worked in army field hospitals. He later turned his attention to various philanthropic efforts, particularly among poor and destitute children. Before his death at the age of fifty-eight, he founded the Society of Friends in Need, and a centre to care for poor children. He is known in English hymnody for this one hymn.
The lovely carol celebrates Christmas as the time when God’s grace, love, and peace were revealed, or were extended to man, through the coming of Christ. Once, in the Bible, all three qualities are mentioned in a single verse.
“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (II Jn. 1:3).
Consider, first, the grace of God.
The Word [Christ] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth….And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:14-17).
Grace, God’s unearned and unmerited favour, was poured out abundantly in and through Christ. For vs. 16, the Amplified Bible has, “Out of His fullness (abundance) we have all received one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favour upon favour and gift upon gift.”
CH-1) O thou joyful, O thou wonderful
Grace revealing Christmastide!
Jesus came to win us
From all sin within us;
Glorify, glorify the Holy Child!
Then, we have God’s great expression of love through Christ, a giving, infinitely self-sacrificing love.
“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). “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Indeed, “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (I Jn. 4:9).
CH-2) O thou joyful, O thou wonderful
Love revealing Christmastide!
Loud hosannas singing,
And all praises bringing,
May Thy love, may Thy love with us abide.
Finally, there is the subject of peace to consider. In our sin-darkened world, there is very little peace. No settled peace between nations, nor a reigning tranquility and serenity in many human hearts. However, God has promised two kinds of peace through Christ that can be ours now, plus a final peace throughout the world, when Christ returns to reign (cf. Isa. 9:6-7).
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2).
“Peace with God,” a reconciliation where once there was enmity (vs. 10) is ours when we trust in Christ as Saviour. A peace He purchased through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:20).
Then, we can have inner peace, even in the face of troubles and trials, as we commit such things to the Lord in prayer, trusting Him to work out what is best. That is “the peace of God.”
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
CH-3) O thou joyful, O thou wonderful
Peace revealing Christmastide!
God’s own light now neareth,
Peace and joy, peace and joy to all betide.
1) How are these three key qualities linked to one another?
2) What can you do at the Christmas season to help others see what God has done for them in Christ?