Songs of Advent – Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, December 25th, Christmas. Good morning to you! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. For the past four weeks we’ve ended our Friday programs with music of Advent. We pray these provided moments of peace and reflection as we’ve anticipated the birth of Christ.

EICHER: It seems only fitting that we should also end this week – this day — with music. Bonnie Pritchett takes us back where we began with a hymn by Charles Wesley.

BONNIE PRITCHETT, REPORTER: Charles Wesley’s creation “A Hymn for Christmas Day” has been greatly altered since he first wrote it in 1739. For starters, the title has changed. And the opening line originally read, “Hark! How the welkin rings. Glory to the King of Kings.”

Welkin means sky or heaven.

And what fills the pages of today’s hymnals is only three verses of the original five of Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

Here is a 1980 recording by the Bach Choir and Phillips Jones Brass Ensemble.


Wesley’s friend George Whitefield edited the opening couplet to read: “Hark! The herald angels sing. Glory to the new-born king.” Perhaps Whitefield’s desire to keep the rhyme unintentionally created this [I’m being sarcastic here] great theological debate: Did the angels “Sing” or “Say” to the shepherds “Unto you is born this day…a child who is Christ the Lord”?

Whether sung or spoken, the message was most assuredly music to their ears.

The melody sung today is thanks to William Cummings who, in 1855, put the lyrics to portions of Mendelson’s “Festival Song.”

Junior Garr and The Spirituals choir gave that melody a gospel twist in this Dec. 15th recording in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.


The inspiration for the hymn reportedly came to Wesley’s as he walked to church Christmas Day. Steeple bells typically called the faithful to church. But that day, Christmas Day, they seemed to proclaim the birth of the King of Kings.

The Irish band Rend Collectives incorporation of bells and chimes echo the ancient call–a never-ending call to worship.


Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett. Merry Christmas, everyone!


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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