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December 21, 2023

The Unintended Christmas Carol 

As we wind down our work schedules leading up to Christmas and the holidays, and perhaps wind up our last-minute shopping, I thought a change of pace might be good for our daily posts. Today, I’ll be sharing interesting facts about three of the most popular Christmas hymns of all time, along with the complete lyrics of each. We’ll end with a short prayer and a link to one of these beautiful songs. You’ll enjoy this.

Tomorrow, I’ll do the same, sharing some information I’m quite certain most of you won’t know, and ending with my all-time favorite Christmas song. The video link I’ll send will move you to tears. You’ll thank me.

Joy to the World

“Joy to the World,” written in 1719 by Isaac Watts, has been the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. It was not written as a Christmas carol but as a poem about the reigning King, based on Psalm 98. “Stanza three…alludes to Genesis 3:17-19…speaks of Christ's blessings extending victoriously over the realm of sin…Stanza four celebrates Christ's rule over the nations…called to celebrate because God's faithfulness to the house of Israel has brought salvation to the world.”(1) Here are the words to this famous hymn:

Joy to the World

“Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let Earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing, 

And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains; 

Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found, 

Far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, 

And wonders, wonders, of His love.” (1)

O Little Town of Bethlehem

“Phillip Brooks was a distinguished man of faith and intellect. A Boston-born Episcopalian preacher, he'd earned a Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Oxford, taught at Yale University, and publicly advocated against slavery during the Civil War. But he's best known for penning "O Little Town of Bethlehem" after a life-changing journey.

In 1865, Brooks rode on horseback from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where he participated in the Church of the Nativity's five-hour-long Christmas Eve celebration, complete with hymns. Returning home, this experience proved so profound that he channeled it into the song sung in churches to this day. Its first public performance was held three years later, performed by the children's choir of his church [The Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia] on December 27.”(2)

Until then, this musical, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was still only a poem. Brooks asked his organist, Lewis Redner, to write the music. Here is Redner’s interesting explanation of how the music came to him:

“As Christmas of 1868 approached, Mr. Brooks told me that he had written a simple little carol for the Christmas Sunday School service, and he asked me to write the tune to it. The simple music was written in great haste and under great pressure. We were to practice it on the following Sunday. Mr. Brooks came to me on Friday, and said, ‘Redner, have you ground out that music yet to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”?’ I replied, ‘No,’ but that he should have it by Sunday. On the Saturday night previous, my brain was all confused about the tune. I thought more about my Sunday school lesson than I did about the music. But I was roused from sleep late in the night hearing an angel-strain whispering in my ear, and seizing a piece of music paper, I jotted down the treble of the tune as we now have it, and on Sunday morning before going to church, I filled in the harmony. Neither Mr. Brooks nor I ever thought the carol or the music to it would live beyond that Christmas of 1868.”(3) How wrong they were!

O Little Town of Bethlehem

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary; and, gathered all above, while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wond'ring love. O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth, and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is giv'n! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav'n. No ear may hear His coming but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!”(4)

Silent Night

“Silent Night” is the world’s most-recorded Christmas song, with more than 137,000 known recordings.(5)

In 1818, “Father Joseph Mohr, in Austria, is preparing the music for [Christmas Eve] midnight mass and asks his friend Franz Gruber, a schoolteacher, to write a guitar accompaniment for a poem that he had written two years earlier. That night, the two men sang their brand new song at St. Nicholas church, and one of our best-loved Christmas carols was born.

“A commonly held myth is that this was because the church organ was broken – possibly because of flooding from a nearby river. However, nobody knows the true reason why it came to be composed on guitar – perhaps it was because Joseph Mohr also played the guitar. A version of “Silent Night” recorded by Bing Crosby in 1935 sold a whopping 30 million copies.”(6)

"Silent Night" is about a calm and bright silent night, and the wonder of a tender and mild newborn child, words written in 1816…not long after the Napoleonic wars had taken their toll. The priest went for a walk before he wrote it, and he looked out over a very quiet, winter-laden town. He was inspired...the town was at peace.”(7) And this provoked the classic, “Silent Night.”

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night, All is calm, all is bright

Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child

Holy Infant, so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night, Shepherds quake at the sight

Glories stream from heaven afar

Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia

Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love's pure light

Radiant beams from Thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.”(8)

Pray with me:

Thank You, Lord, for coming to earth and making Your blessings flow, far as the curse is found. Your right hand has gained the victory for You (Psalm 98:1), and You have made known Your salvation and revealed Your righteousness to the nations (verse 2). You tell us to “shout joyfully,” breaking forth with praise (verse 4); that the seas roar, the rivers clap, and the mountains sing for joy (verses 7-8) because Christ is coming to judge the earth with righteousness and equity (verse 9).

As we ponder the wonder of Your great gift to us, Father, we thank You, along with Phillip Brooks, for the everlasting light that shone in the dark streets of Bethlehem. In that quiet town, on that night so long ago, the hopes and fears of all the years met in the birth of our Savior. Thank You for this great gift.

Click on the link below to watch the full video.


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