Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
In 1855, William Cummings combined a melody from Mendelssohn’s tribute to Gutenberg, the man who was the first to print the Bible, with the text of a hymn Charles Wesley wrote and George Whitefield had published. This new setting for Hark! The Herald Angels Sing has since become one of the most recognized Christmas carols in the world. Each verse of the song end with the refrain reminding us of what the angels proclaimed the night Jesus was born, “Glory to the newborn King.”
I am truly happy to see all of you here and extend a warm welcome to each of you. This is our third annual Christmas concert, titled “The Glory of Christmas.” Christmas truly is a glorious season. There are many reasons this time of the year is so special – we gather with friends and loved ones, we share our blessings with the less fortunate and there are many other family traditions that warm our hearts. But the most important reason is remembering the sacrificial gift that an almighty God bestowed on a spiritually destitute world. When the eternal God became flesh on Christmas night, His everlasting love began to effect the redemption of all mankind. The angels came and announced that Christ the Lord had come as a babe and proclaimed peace and good will to men and glory to God. As we celebrate the Savior’s birth, let us give God the glory of Christmas. As we express our joy and thankfulness to God, we don’t expect applause from men. Please join with us in our joy and attempts to glorify the greatest Giver of Christmas.
You’ll notice on the back of your program the words to “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” This song tells of the same event when the herald angels sang. It was the midnight clear when angels bending near the earth proclaimed “Peace on the earth, goodwill to men from heaven’s all gracious King!” Edmund Sears was a Unitarian pastor who believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and preached this in his weekly sermons. He also believed that every Christian should be involved in reaching out to the lost, helpless and poor. He wrote these words while discouraged by the evils in the world around him, but still looked forward to the days when the whole world would “send back the song which now the angels sing.”
We are going to sing this together as we give the orchestra a chance to find seats in the auditorium. This would also be a good time to make sure you don’t have any potentially embarrassing disturbances on your person – like cell phones, watch alarms, or crying children – that may go off in the next hour or so. Let’s stand together and sing the carol “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.”
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
The program for the night will begin with some of our smaller instrumental and vocal groups. Then we’ll sing another carol while the choir and orchestra come up to the platform to bring our final selections.
One of our ladies’ trios will sing a medley of songs that speak of the babe that was born on Christmas night. The arrangement ends with the song “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” which reminds us that the Christ child was really the Lord of all, and that He was born for each and every one of us. A violin duet will play the song, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” This song also speaks of the first Christmas night, when God whom heaven cannot hold humbled Himself and was born in a stable and laid in a manger. The song ends with the question, “What can I give him? Give Him my heart.” Then another ladies’ trio will sing the Negro spiritual, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” The way the words to this song are written reminds us that even in the world today… we still don’t know “Who He was.”
All Through the Night
In the Bleak Midwinter
Sweet Little Jesus Boy
One of the unfathomable concepts of Christmas, one of the truths that makes this season so special, is the idea that at Christmas the transcendent, eternal God was born of a virgin, took flesh upon himself and lived among mankind. We learn this from Matthew 1:21-23 which says,
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
Our ladies chorus will sing a song entitled “He’s Emmanuel” which answers questions we would have as we view the birth and life of God on earth.
“O Holy Night” is one of the most popular of all Christmas songs. Even though a poet who was not a regular churchgoer wrote the words, and a Jew who did not believe in Christ as the Son of God wrote the music, its message in text and music is so powerful that it has overcome opposition from organized religion. Because of its background, the Catholic Church in France banned its use in its services, but people recognized its value and still sang the song. It was also the first song ever to be heard over the airwaves of radio. On Christmas Eve, in 1906, as radio operators were expecting to hear dots and dashes, they heard the voice of Reginald Fessenden, a former chemist for Thomas Edison, reciting the Christmas story from Luke chapter two. When he finished, he picked up his violin and played the song “O Holy Night” – the first music to be heard over the radio. After the Ladies chorus sings, our male quartet will sing “O Holy Night.”
O Holy Night
The next three songs are probably some of the most familiar of Christmas carols. People have sung along with “Silent Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Joy to the World” for many years. Both the words and music to the song “Silent Night” were written under unusual circumstances. The words were written at the last minute for Christmas services and because the church organ was broken, the tune had to be simple enough to be played on a classical guitar. Our woodwind/string ensemble will play an arrangement of this song, and then our mixed ensemble will sing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” followed by our brass ensemble playing “Joy To the World.” Isaac Watts wrote “Joy to the World” with the meaning for the text taken from Psalm 98:4-9 which says,
4 Let all the earth unto the Lord
send forth a joyful noise;
Lift up your voice aloud to him,
sing praises, and rejoice.
5 With harp, with harp, and voice of psalms,
unto Jehovah sing:
6 With trumpets, cornets, gladly sound
before the Lord the King.
7 Let seas and all their fullness roar;
the world, and dwellers there;
8 Let floods clap hands, and let the hills
together joy declare
9 Before the Lord; because he comes,
to judge the earth comes he:
He’ll judge the world with righteousness,
his folk with equity.
About 100 years later, Lowell Mason took Watts’ text and put it to music he had written which was inspired by songs from Handel’s Messiah. The new tune breathed the Christmas spirit. And even though the text does not come from any of the gospel accounts of Christ’s birth, the truth, that the Lord is come, has inspired many for many years.
O Come All Ye Faithful
Joy To the World
Next, we’ll hear a two piano, organ arrangement of one of the few Christmas, Negro spirituals, “Go, Tell it on the Mountain.” This rhythmic tune reminds us of the Savior’s birth and urges us to take up the message of the shepherds who first heard of Christ’s birth from the angels, went to see the newborn babe and then spread the word on the mountain, over the hills, – everywhere, that Jesus, the Christ is born! The carol “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” tells of the night when the gentle Lamb that had been promised from eternity, appeared in Bethlehem. Even though it was nighttime, that was a blessed morn—it was the dawn of redemption when the sacred infant showed His love by leaving the highest bliss to come to such a world as this! Our male chorus will sing this song before we join together in another carol.
Go Tell It On the Mountain/He Is Born
See Amid the Winter’s Snow
Hopefully, you have enjoyed the music so far, and in a few moments the choir and orchestra will come and finish the night out for us. While we enjoy music and praising God in this way, there are many other things our church does to help the community around us. Many of you may see our buses going through the neighborhoods each Sunday morning. We provide transportation to church for hundreds of people weekly. Many of the children we bring to church will be participating in our annual children’s Christmas program on Christmas morning. Every Thursday evening our church hosts a chapter of Reformers Unanimous. This is a local church based program to help people break the strongholds of addictions in their lives. On a weekly basis, we invite seniors to what we call “Jolly 60’s,” where they can interact with other seniors and participate in various enrichment programs. Also on Thursdays, while teens and adults are learning in classes programmed for them, our Master Clubs program is available for the children to be involved in. During the summer, Camp Fairhaven provides daytime activities, crafts, sports, and swimming to hundreds of children. Along with other activities we also hold church services in nine area nursing homes, and a local truck stop. If you are interested in learning more about any of these programs, we have a table in the foyer that has information available about all of these.
Phillips Brooks was such a popular preacher that he was the one called upon to deliver the oration at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. Even though he was only thirty at the time, he was worn out from leading his Philadelphia congregation through the Civil War and then having to address the nation at the president’s funeral. He took a sabbatical from pasturing and traveled to the Holy Lands. While there, on Christmas Eve, he came to the town of Bethlehem and attended services there. Reflecting on the surroundings and the significance of the time and place where he was rejuvenated him and he returned to America a “new” man. He had a difficult time relating his new enthusiasm to his congregation until a few years later the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” came to him. He shared the words with his organist and he could not compose a tune to go with them until the middle of the night of Christmas Eve 1868. He woke in the night with a tune that fit the words perfectly. In the morning, the song was introduced to Brooks’ congregation and has grown in popularity ever since. The words are on the back of your program. Let’s stand and sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as the orchestra and choir make their way to the platform.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
As we begin this section of the night, the choir and orchestra will each perform a medley of Christmas favorites together they will include “Hark! Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Away in a Manger,” and “Joy to the World.”
Christmas Joy and Glory
After the choir sings a rendition of “Carol of the Bells,” they will be joined by the brass in an arrangement of “Angels From the Realms of Glory,” Angels are a significant part of our Christmas traditions. Their beauty and majesty contribute to the wonder of the season. And yet, while they could sing creation’s story, and gladly proclaim the Savior’s birth, they can’t experience the joy and freedom His coming gave to mankind. Christ’s coming makes possible the true peace and joy for everyone on earth. Christmas is not just about sentimental feelings; it’s about remembering when God became flesh, grew up and lived among mankind, and then died to pay the penalty for man’s sin. After His death he arose as a conquering king over sin and death. That’s why the song invites us to “Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King.”
Carol of the Bell
Angels From the Realms of Glory
Most of us do not know a foreign language, but the Latin words in the next carol are very familiar to us – Gloria in excelsis Deo. As far back as 130 A.D., churches were encouraged to end all their Christmas songs with this phrase, which is drawn from the message the angels gave to the shepherds the very night Christ was born – “Glory to God in the highest.” This has been the theme of the night. We’ll continue that with an arrangement for piano and organ titled, “Gloria.” When they finish, the choir will accompany a soloist singing “Away in a Manger.” For many years Martin Luther was named as the writer of this simple Christmas lullaby. Although the song was probably written in the mid-1800’s, the story about Luther’s authorship grew over time. Since Martin Luther was a German, during the First World War, the words to this song were sung to another tune, possibly as a reaction to anything German. And now we recognize both tunes to “Away in a Manger.” The simple tune and powerful imagery makes it a very popular children’s Christmas song.
Angels We Have Heard On High
Away in a Manger
The word “noel” is means of a joyful shout of exhilaration. And the first noel that was heard was when the angels proclaimed Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men to the poor shepherds in fields outside Bethlehem. The carol “The First Noel” tells the Christmas story from the angels’ announcement, to the wise men following the star to the place where Jesus was. It ends by telling us all “with one accord” to “sing praises to our heavenly Lord.” We are to do this because as he has made heaven and earth out of nothing, He has also bought mankind by His blood. The choir is going to sing an arrangement of this carol, and we will join in on the last verse. The words are at the bottom of your program and you’ll notice that the phrase “born is the King” is repeated a few times. It should not be to hard to follow along as we sing about the first noel.”
The First Noel
Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heav’nly Lord,
That hath made heav’n and earth of naught,
And with His blood mankind hath bought
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King,
Born is the King,
Born is the King of Israel.
Again, I want to thank you for coming, and I trust you were uplifted by the truths of the season around us. I invite you to worship with us every Sunday, but in particular on the 25th, when we’ll have a special Christmas Sunday service at 10:30 a.m. which will include a children’s Christmas program. Good night.