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HYMNS FOR CHRISTMAS EVE Joy to the World/A Thousand Christmas Candles Gleam/Nu tändas tusen Juleljus.

Psalm 98; Genesis 3: 16-17

Text: Isaac Watts (1684-1748) Tune: Lowell Mason (1792-1872)

Flemish miniature of Annunciation to Shepherds, 15th century

1. Joy to the World; the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing. 2. Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ; While fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains Repeat the sounding joy.

3. No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings flow Far as the curse is found.

4. He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love.

MEDITATION (This is a copy of a prior hymnblog, but it works for this Christmas Eve as well.) The raucous celebrations of the Twelve Days of Christmas repelled the Puritans, who outlawed the holiday. English Dissenters agreed with them. As one Puritan divine argued, thinking of the wild revels, "Christ is more dishonored during the Twelve Days of Christmas than at any other time of the year." Cotton Mather, the American Puritan, argued the same. Americans did not observe it as a public holiday for some time. Even Congress met on Christmas Day at the beginning of the Republic. People, however, loved Christmas celebrations. Benjamin Franklin said in Poor Richard’s Almanac, “O Blessed Season! Lov’d by Saints and Sinners/For Long Devotions, or for longer Dinners.”

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and family with a Christmas tree 1848

Things would change in the 19th century. German Christmas customs like the Christmas tree, for example, first appeared in America when Hessian soldiers decorated one in 1777 during the Revolution. Millions of German immigrants brought them with them as well. Queen Victoria knew them from her German mother, but nothing created the rage for them like this above etching of the Christmas tree in the palace with Victoria, Albert and the children standing around a tree. These all helped to make Christmas celebrations more popular. The poem “The Night Before Christmas” published in 1823 brought Santa Claus into the celebration. Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas a Federal holiday in 1870. Of course, the holiday has it excesses. Many clergy have, rightly, railed against missing the meaning of Christmas. Brorson wrote a hymn, one of his earliest, not sung much these days, “Away! worldly Christmas joys!/Bort! Verdens jule-glæde."

For him, and for many, the effort to put Christ back into Christmas was ongoing. The church fathers had shrewdly named the pagan midwinter festival as the date of Christ’s birth and Christianized the festival, but while it was shrewd, many celebrations have a way of taking over with their excesses. But shutting down joyful celebrations of Christmas, its gatherings, concerts, pageants, parties, foods, and gifts, because sometimes they are excessive, misses the point of the Incarnation. Jesus came to bring joy to our life here and now, in this world, not only the afterlife. God gave us the things of this world to enjoy.

Isaac Watts, himself a Dissenting pastor, probably agreed that Christmas festivities could stray far from a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Ironically, he wrote the most popular Christmas hymn of all, now obligatory during Christmas carol sings.

Watts used Psalm 98, appointed for Christmas Day, to describe the angels announcing to the shepherds that Christ is born. For this good news, every heart should sing. I like how he makes our songs echo through all of creation. "Fields and floods, Rocks, hills and plains” join us in songs of praise. He also notes that Christmas is when the Lord’s promise to Eve that her son would bruise the serpent’s head is being fulfilled: the curse from Eden is lifted and the blessings can now flow. All things are made right! Creation suffered from the fall, Paul says, in Roman 8:22, "the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

So break forth and sing! Take pleasure in all the good we have been given. All is made new by the “wonders of his love.”

Isaac Watts


Lowell Mason, the 19th century American musician, who arranged, if not composed, the melody, admired Handel’s music, in fact he was named president of the Boston Handel and Haydn Society in 1827. The first few notes are direct quotes from Handel’s setting of the chorus, “Lift up your heads” in the Messiah. Some think a tune very like this preceded Mason’s work, but in any case, the setting has become the only one people associate with the text now. For generations in English speaking lands, it has been the most sung and printed Christmas hymn of all.


The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Celtic Women Christmas Concert Irish

Libera Children's Choir/Ireland

Piano Guys Ode to Joy to the World on Beethoven’s 250th birthday


Nu tändas tusen juleljus.

Text and tune: Emily Köhler (1848-1925)

One of the necessary songs at Lucia festivals. Emily Köhler, a Swede, wrote hymns and stories for young children. This is her most popular work, considered obligatory for Christmas concerts in Scandinavia. Here are two fine renditions of it by Sissel, and Helen Sjöholm and Benny Andersen

1. A thousand Christmas candles gleam

All through the winter night

The countless stars up in the sky

Shine down and give us light.

2. O starry heaven twinkle bright

And tell out the good news!

That Jesus Christ is born to us

Good news to us, good news!

3. O star, bright star of Bethlehem,

Come, shine on us with grace,

Shine light upon our sudden joy

And shine on Jesus' face.

4. On every heart of darkness here,

Send streams of blessed light.

The light of God's incarnate love

Made flesh for us tonight!

Tr. Gracia Grindal


Brass bands

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