The first known Christmas hymns may be traced to 4th century Rome. One of the first Latin hymns was Veni redemptor gentium, written by Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan (c.337-397), were serious statements of the theological doctrine of the Incarnation.
“Redeemer of the nations,
Show forth the Virgin birth;
Let ever age marvel:
such a birth befits God. “
“Of the Father’s heart begotten,
Ere the world from chaos rose,
He is Alpha, from that Fountain
All that is and hath been flows;
He is Omega, of all things,
Yet to come the mystic Close,
Evermore and evermore.“
Later many outstanding people made famous Christmas songs throughout the whole world – like Francis of Assisi (*1181-3.10.1226), John Awdlay (-1426)…and many others – however carols gained in popularity after the Reformation in the countries where Protestant churches gained prominence (also well-known Reformers like Martin Luther authored carols and encouraged their use in worship). This was a consequence of the fact that the Lutheran Reformation warmly welcomed music.
Also Charles Wesley (18.12.1707 – 29.3.1788) who is estimated to have written over 8,000 hymns is well-known for writing the Christmas Carol Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
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 the angelic host proclaim
“Christ is born in Bethlehem“.
His brother, John Wesley (28. 6. 1703 – 2. 3. 1791) in his work “Directions for Singing”, gave musicans more than theoretical advice on how to worship in a way to please God
- Learn tunes before you learn any others;
- Sing them exactly as they are printed,
- Sing all without weakness and you will find blessing
- Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
- Sing modestly.
- Sing in time
- Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your Heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
So, maybe more then any other time, this Christmas we can also through Christmas Carols feel, smell and touch a piece of Heaven. Just maybe listen and sing Silent night and lift up your eyes and look to the heavens (Isaiah 40,26).
Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst 1590 – 1656
Worship of the Shepherds