My Favorite Christmas Hymns
A Little History About Hymns
At Christmas, hymns are not the first thing that may come to someone's mind. People might think about Christmas Carols or the traditional songs of Christmas and many of these have some hymns among them since they are so well known but they also include other secular songs that are not classified as hymns.
The Christmas hymn came about before Christmas was celebrated as Christmas. Since a hymn is a song that gives glory to God, hymns about Christ being born and recognizing His saving power were sung long before He was born in the flesh.
How could I come to such a conclusion?
The Psalms, of course!
They were songs, or hymns that were written long before the Lord came in flesh that gave glory to Him and praised His holy name.
Psalms 2, 16, 22, and 89, all prophesy about the coming of the Lord and give glory and recognize that Jesus is Lord.
Did you know that Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn at the Passover?
Matthew 26:29 says, "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives."
The Hymn - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Mr. Bean's Jazz Version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
As stated before, there are hymns that are associated with Christmas because they are about the birth of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. All of these hymns were inspired by the Bible and speak of the glorious news that the Savior was born.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Well loved and known by many, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is one of those hymns that manages to stay in your head. Many know the first line and the second, many are sure of but somewhere after that it turns into a hum and then certain again, the singer belts out the last lines,
' O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy! '
It was first published in 1833 by a man named William B. Sandys. Mr. Sandys had collected a whole lot of Christmas music, carols and hymns, and put them into books. They were a success as many of the hymns had never been printed before and perhaps were simply known by ear to some. His printing of these hymns caused them to become widely sung and it is because of Mr. Sandys we are able to know and sing them today.
It is not known who wrote 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' and that happens every so often with the beloved hymns. Many of them started off as poems written to express the overwhelming joy that Christ had brought into the author's life. They were shared with loved ones and somewhere along the line someone put music to it. It may be a mystery to us who wrote it and it is marked unknown among us but it is not unknown to God in heaven who was there the day it was written.
St. Paul's Cathedral Choir Sings Hark!The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! I knew not what it meant and it was a mouthful for a child of four but it was one of the first hymns I knew by heart. The words of these treasured songs are priceless and it is worth a little time explaining them to children. I knew that the hymn was speaking about the angels and God but I did not understand their words entirely. Age and the fear of the Lord caused me to examine these words later in life and helped me to understand.
To dissect the meaning of the first verse for the little ones:
- Hark! - Listen well!
- Herald - An important messenger from the Lord
- The New Born King - Jesus Christ
- Mercy Mild - Kind mercy or gentle mercy as Portia said in The Merchant of Venice, 'The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven...'
- Join the triumph - take part in the celebration of victory
- With angelic hosts proclaim - say along with all of the angels
Hark! The Herald Angels sing was written by John Wesley in 1739. He originally wrote, 'Hark! how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings,' If you are wondering just what is a welkin, well it refers to the heavens above and so, in essence, Wesley was actually saying, 'Listen, how the heavens ring,' George Whitefield, however, is credited with changing it to the line we know now.
The London Symphony Orchestra - The First Noel
The First Noel
Another hymn that first appeared in William Sandys' hymnal, The First Noël is one of the hymns that tells the story of the shepherds and the angel that visited them and told them of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. The First Noel, in case your children ask, refers to the birth of Jesus, noël meaning birth.
It may be from this hymn, or from the hymn 'We Three Kings' that the idea that there were three wise men was cemented in the many people's minds.
Verse six reads:
Then entered in those Wise Men three,
full reverently upon the knee,
and offered there, in His presence,
Gold and myrrh and frankincense.
The fact that Jesus was given three gifts adds to the conviction but the Bible never says how many wise men came to see the Lord.
The hymn, Angels We Have Heard On High, also speaks about the angels and the shepherds giving praise and glory to God for the Savior.
St. Paul's Cathedral - Once In Royal David's City
Once In Royal David's City
One of my absolute favorite's Once In Royal David's City has a simple tune with wonderful words. It establishes the kingship of Jesus and mentions the fact that He fulfilled the prophecy that He would be born in Bethlehem and that He would come from the line of David.
It was written by Cecil Frances Alexander, the very same who wrote the beloved hymn All Things Bright And Beautiful. Although All Things Bright And Beautiful is one of the better known hymns, I think that Once In Royal David's City is a wonderful song proclaiming the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. It also contains the fact that Jesus felt as we felt and so He understands. It affirms that He is the Wonderful Counselor.
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
Another old, well loved hymn, While Shepherds watched their flocks was written by the Irish poet, Nahum Tate, but when he wrote it is unclear. It has been around since the seventeen hundreds and it was the first hymn that the Anglican church used besides the Psalms of the Bible. William Sandys' also published this one.
This hymn was first performed on Christmas Eve. It was written by a parish priest named Josef Mohr and an organist called Franz Gruber. There are many stories that speculate about why it was written. Some say it was because the organ was broken, others say it was because The priest wanted a hymn he could play on the guitar. Whatever the reason, Silent Night has become ( I daresay) the most popular Christmas hymn. It is featured in movies and sung by celebrities ( as many Christmas songs are) even if they do not believe a word that the hymn declares - that, by the way, is another article.
Away In A Manger
Who could mention Christmas Hymns and not mention Away In A Manger? This popular hymn is sung in nearly every Christmas recital. It is sung as a lullaby to babies in their cribs and brings a sense of calm when it is heard. It is one of the most soothing hymns ever written and though it tells the truth that there was no crib for the Savior to sleep in, it highlights to the children that He did not cry or fuss. One might say it is a useful hymn for children but I think it is useful to all of us for though He had trials and tribulations that we could never face, Jesus did not complain but did the will of the Father.
Joy To The World
A catchy hymn and one that most know all the words to. Do they believe them? More importantly, do you believe them? It was written by Isaac Watts and was based on Psalm 98. It is actually about the return of the Lord and His rule after the end of time as we know it.
The London Symphony Orchestra/ The New London Choir - Joy To The World
Other Christmas Hymns You Might Know And Love
There are other hymns that are known and loved as well. Perhaps you know them and like to sing them too:
O Come , O Come Emmanuel - One of the slower hymns, it is written so that the verse records the plea of the writer, asking the Savior, Emmanuel to come and rescue His people. The chorus is written as Emmanuel's response assuring the writer that He will indeed come.
O Come All Ye Faithful - First sung in Latin, this hymn is one that calls on the faithful of the Lord to adore Jesus Christ.
O Holy Night - Recounts the night when Christ was born. It too, calls for the worship of the Lord in the lines "Fall on your knees." It proclaims the night as divine because of the divine occurrence that happened then.
What Child Is This? - Declares the Kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ and highlights His birth and shows that salvation comes through Him.
O Little Town Of Bethlehem - This little hymn speaks of the town Bethlehem. It is a somewhat mysterious hymn ( at least to me) as I can imagine the silent town, ignorant of the fact that the Savior of the world had been born in it.
Go, Tell It On The Mountain and Children Go Where I Send Thee are two songs whose authors are unknown. They are of the group of hymns referred to as Spirituals. They proclaim the birth of Christ, and encourage others to go and spread the news that He did come.
Of the list above, I cannot say which I like best. They all proclaim Jesus as Lord and for that, they are equal in my sight. Some may come to mind more than others but there is no doubt that all of them are beautiful hymns that testify of Him.