URC Daily Devotion Thursday 24th December 2020

Thursday 24th December – Hark the Herald Angels Sing

This hymn has been edited since Wesley’s, long forgotten, original.  George Whitfield changed some of the words and cut some of the verses (which were originally of four lines each) whilst Charles Burnley changed the hymn to its current form of three 8 line verses.  We have no idea what the original tune was – Wesley wanted something slow and solemn! – since it was paired with Mendelssohn’s masterpiece.  

St Luke 2: 8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,  ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ 

Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Charles Wesley 1707-1788)

You can hear this carol here

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born 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 host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!

Christ, by highest heaven adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favoured one.
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as a man, with us to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hail! the heaven-born
Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that we no more may die:
Born to raise the folk of earth,
Born to give us second birth.


It always baffles me how much the phrase “and they were terrified” downplays the reality that the shepherds must have been experiencing. It’s very much just mentioned in passing. But the fear and anxiety the shepherds must have been feeling, is tough to describe. But similarly, a short sentence from the angel for comfort: “Do not be afraid”. “Yeah, cheers”, they must have been thinking. But then they are offered something that will bring great joy for all the people. A reason not to be afraid, a reason to celebrate!

When we’re feeling afraid or anxious, often we need more than just a few words. And it’s not something that can necessarily change overnight, or in an average afternoon. But as we can see here, God, in this case through the angels, offers us so much more than just a few words. We are offered a Jesus-filled life. A life that will still have its ups and downs. But in those down moments, we still have Christ by our side, and each other.

It amuses me how we happily sing this carol all the way through Advent, yet withhold the famous 6th verse of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ until Christmas Day. Yes, I know it talks about ‘born this happy morning’, but still.

But doesn’t that say something? About how we, too, should be harking like the angels throughout all of Advent, Christmas, and beyond. Harking about the good news of Jesus Christ. I can guarantee someone, somewhere, will be feeling afraid, and they will be blessed by hearing the message of “Do not be afraid, for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:” Try it, see what happens… 

I wish you all a very blessèd Christmas.


God of Mission,
Who, alone, brings growth to your church.
We thank you for the gift of your son Jesus Christ this Christmas. 
We pray that you would give 
vision to our planning, 
wisdom to our actions, 
and power to our witness.
Help us to grow in spiritual commitment to you,
through celebration of the birth of your son Jesus Christ.
Help us to spread the message of hope in our communities.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,

Adapted LYCIG (Leading Your Church Into Growth) Prayer

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