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Hymns of the Season: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

This hymn by Charles Wesley (with his own tune) was published in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739. It was titled "Hymn for Christmas Day." The original hymn contained ten four-line stanzas and had a different first line. Wesley wrote: "Hark! How All the Welkin Rings, Glory to the King of Kings." "Welkin" literally means "the vault of heaven." In 1753, George Whitefield (without consulting Wesley) changed the line to "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King." Wesley's reaction was not favorable, and he never sang this version of the hymn.

More than a century later, in 1855, William Cummings, the youthful organist for Waltham Abbey Parish Church (north of London) was looking for new Christmas songs when he saw Wesley's hymn with Whitefield's revised first line. Cummings liked the revision and he began searching for a new tune.

Cummings admired Felix Mendelssohn, one of the most renowned composers in the world and a Jewish convert to Christianity. Mendelssohn wrote a powerful tune for an event in Germany, but he felt it was too spirited to be sung with "sacred words." Unaware of this view, Cummings set about adapting the tune to the Whitefield revision of Wesley's hymn. It was sung for the first time at Waltham Abbey and by 1861 was included in Hymns Ancient and Modern, the most widely-distributed hymnal in history. Wesley, Whitefield, and Mendelssohn were endowed with greatness, but it was William Cummings who brought them together for all time. Their hymn became one of the most popular hymns in the English language and one of the most recognized Christmas carols in the world.

Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn 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 hosts proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem."

Mild, He lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th'incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.

Hail the heav'n born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris'n with healing in His wings.
Christ, by highest heav'n adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord
Come, Desire of nations, Come! Fix in us Thy humble home.

Check out the video below for a stunning performance of the hymn by Natalie Cole and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.