I am truly happy to see all of you here and I extend a warm welcome to each of you. This is our fourth 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.
Our program began tonight with the Westminster Carol;
a very popular tune with the familiar Latin words 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.” The song’s four verses embrace the angels’ visit to the lowly shepherds and the shepherds’ response. The angels’ coming to men who worked menial jobs in the fields and informing them of the birth of the Son of God symbolizes that Christ came for all people, rich or poor, humble or powerful. The shepherds’ response was to bow before the humble manger Mary laid the Savior in. Our college choir will sing a song telling some of the shepherd’s story from the first Christmas night.
You’ll notice in your program the words to “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 ends with the refrain reminding us of what the angels proclaimed the night Jesus was born, “Glory to the newborn King.” Let’s stand and sing this song together. As we sing, you may want to take the opportunity to remove any potentially embarrassing disturbances you may have on your person – like cell phones, watch alarms, or even crying children – that may go off in the next hour or so.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Our next selection, “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” sung by a ladies ensemble, calls on all of us to respond to the birth of the Savior by ringing bells and singing praises to the exalt the newborn King. After the ladies group, our college ensemble will sing a medley of “Joy to the World” and “Good Christian Men Rejoice.” The author of “Good Christian Men Rejoice” was one who also believed the message of the gospel was for all men, not just an elite few. Heinrich Suso was exiled from his homeland Germany for writing books for the common man, conveying Christ’s desire that all men should come to Him. However, persecution did not hinder him. The last verse of his carol declares, “Jesus Christ was born to save! / Calls you one and calls you all, / To gain His everlasting hall.” This message stands today; Christ still calls all men to salvation.
Ding Dong Merrily on High
Joy to the World with Good Christian Men Rejoice
“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 a trumpet duet plays a medley including “O Holy Night,” a trio will sing “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
The word “noel” means a joyful shout of exhilaration, traditionally in reference to the birth of Christ. 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 the 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.
Our mixed ensemble will sing a rendition of this song, and then the brass ensemble will play “What Child Is This?” In our secular world of reindeer, santa claus, elves, and snowmen, many may wonder what the beginnings of this celebration is. Why do we do this at this time? When they learn it’s because of the birth of a child, they may wonder…what child? What child greeted by angels’ singing, watched over by shepherds, what child born in a stable where ox and sheep were eating, what child…? Oh, more than a child, he is the word of God made flesh. He is a babe, but also a Son. He gives us hope in this season, but more than that He is the only one that can give hope in any season. This is Christ the Lord. So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh… Come peasant, king, to own Him… The King of kings salvation brings… Let loving hearts enthrone Him! Joy, Joy for Christ is born… the babe, the son of Mary.
The First Noel
What Child Is This?
After the woodwind ensemble plays “Carol of the Bells,” a soloist will sing a song of mysterious origins. John Jacob Niles spent his life searching the Appalachian Mountains for the origins of folk songs. Even while serving in World War I, he demanded a song of every soldier he met, jotting down the lyrics and memorizing the tunes. After the war, he finished his education and quickly became one of the nation’s top opera singers. Traveling throughout the major cities of the country, Niles received standing ovations for singing the best in classical music, even as he sang folk songs backstage. His love for simple American music would not leave him. Tired of the pressures of the city, Niles returned to his Kentucky home. One snowy December night, he wandered on a small town square in the Appalachian Mountains. In the quiet of the night, Niles heard a child’s voice singing. He had never heard the stirring words before. When the child finished her song, Niles approached her and asked her to sing it again. As she did, he wrote down the lyrics and memorized the tune, just as he had in the foxholes of war. When her song was done, the child scampered away. Niles later published the song, “I Wonder as I Wander,” just before the beginning of World War II, and it quickly became a favorite in many an American home. Listen to the words of this enchanting carol, of a child’s awe at Christ’s gift, after “Carol of the Bells.”
Carol of the Bells
I Wonder as I Wander
Next, a men’s chorus will sing a song that declares the joy that the birth of Christ brings to earth. And a piano/organ duet will play “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Just over two thousand years ago, God’s people were in darkness. The Lord had not spoken to them for over 350 years. They had his written word, but no prophets had spoken, and the last prophets had promised a Messiah. Some like Simeon and Anna, and Zechariah and Elizabeth, longed for God to speak to them again. They desired that their Savior would come and dwell with them and deliver them. Matthew 1 says they shall call His name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins. He could do that because He is Emmanuel—God with us. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” communicates the longing of God’s people for their Savior. And truly, the peace that the Savior brings to the believer causes him to sing, “Joy, Joy, Joy!”
How Great Our Joy
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
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 Eve 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.
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. These circumstances together brought forth a carol that is among the most familiar of Christmas songs. The words are in your program. Please stand and sing with me as the orchestra and choir make their way to the platform.
The night of Christ’s birth has been the subject of many Christmas carols. This matchless night was made holy by the coming of the Messiah. In a moment, the orchestra and men’s choir will sing a song immortalizing that night, “O Holy Night.” Then, the orchestra will play a stirring melody, “Gesu, Bambino,” a song that speaks of the wonder of an Almighty God humbling Himself in the form of helpless child.
O Holy Night
Before the choir sings, “Good Christian Men Rejoice,” notice in your program the words to our next song. Isaac Watts wrote the words of “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. Let’s stand and sing this song together.
Joy to the World
Good Christian Men, Rejoice
The “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, is an oratorio that is performed many times during the Christmas season. It was written to tell of the life of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and its text is taken entirely from Scripture. It is divided into three parts, the most familiar of which is the first part, which tells of the prophecy of the Messiah’s coming and the fulfillment of that prophecy when he came at Christmas. The choir will now sing the fourth song of the Messiah, “And the Glory of the Lord,” The text is taken right from Isaiah 40:5 which says, “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”
And the Glory of the Lord
The second part tells of Christ’s passion on the cross and his eventual triumph over all the earth. And the last part, in which the famous “Hallelujah Chorus” is included, tells of Christ’s work throughout eternity when He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords over heaven and earth forever and ever!
Many of the Christmas carols we have all come to love and cherish are ones depicting Christ as a small baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. However, this picture cannot be complete without the future reigning glory of God in mind. Our next selection highlights the message that while we remember Christ’s birth at Christmas, it is His standing as King and Ruler of all things in heaven and in earth that should rule our daily lives. “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”
Crown Him with Many Crowns
We are going to finish tonight with a medley of “Angels We have Heard on High” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” titled, “Canticle of Praise.” As we leave, let us adore and worship the Christ of Christmas, the Lord of all.
Canticle of Praise
I would like to invite you to fellowship in the foyer of our recreation building where we have coffee, ice cream and other refreshments for sale along with a musical CD of Christmas music our church has produced.
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 24th, when we’ll have a special Christmas Sunday service at 10:30 a.m. which will include a children’s Christmas program. Good night.