Thursday, December 20, 2007

Belated Birthday Greetings

Tuesday, December 18, was the 300th birthday of composer Charles Wesley. This Christmas when you sign Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, take a moment to pray for this merry soul.

Charles Wesley was a prolific song writer. There is something like over 1000 hymns in total. Some of the best known are "O for a thousand tongues to sing" & "Christ the Lord is Born Today". His works are still sung, not only in the Methodist hymnals (his brother, John Wesley was the founder of the Methodists, a reform movement of the Church of England & the Protestant faith of my childhood) but also Catholic ones. I get a little happy shiver up my spine every time we sing one of his hymns during Mass.

I heard an interesting commentary on NPR last week. One expert claimed Wesley's popularity was attributed to how he used the first person singer. For example, in Hark! The Herald Angels, the lyrics read "born that we no more may die" rather than the more distant "born that man no more may die. 'These are heart-to-head songs," the expert stated. They explain deep mystical truths to ordinary people, not those trained in seminaries or colleges. Because the songs are so powerful and theologically accurate, they have been adopted by various Christian churchs and are still sung today.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born 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!"
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King!"

Christ, by highest heaven 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 with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King!"

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King!"

Oh, and while we are on the subject of singing. I'm singing as a cantor for the first time this Sunday. I came home to tell Jon and immediately got cold feet. "I can't believe I volunteered for this! There was just a long pause when our choir director pleaded for volunteers. Our choir is so small. The two regular cantors are already singing on Monday and Tuesday. I just felt like I had to do my part." Oh well, have to break the ice sometime. For my sake, be extra forgiving if your cantor wavers her voice during the Psalm on Dec 23rd or if the Christmas offertory hymn isn't quite in tune.