A Classic Charles Wesley Christmas

Stained glass window featuring Charles Wesley from Grace United Methodist Church in Atlanta, part of the United Methodist Church Global Mission Center. ~umcom/Kathleen Barry

Charles Wesley, a prolific hymn writer, wrote several classic hymns for Advent and Christmas.

Charles Wesley composed the text of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” in 1734. In 1744, Wesley published “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” in “Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord,” a hymnal which was reprinted many times during Wesley’s lifetime.

In “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” Wesley wonderfully captured the anticipation of the people of Israel who longed hundreds of years for the coming of the Messiah. As we sing, we sense the words of the prophets calling the people to prepare the way of the Lord into history (Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1-4), and into our hearts and lives. Read more about this beloved hymn.

When standing in long lines at the store threatens to steal your joy this Christmas, hum this hymn as a reminder that waiting is essential to the season. During Advent, we wait for the coming of Christ into history, into our lives, and into our world.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time. We hear it while shopping in December, will almost certainly sing it during Christmas Eve worship, and have been listening to Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang sing it to close their Christmas special since 1965.

The love and grace of God are available to all nations whom the angels invite to join the song. “The Wesleys were really concerned that all people realize that God’s love, grace and mercy are intended for everyone,” says United Methodist Wesley Scholar, the Rev. Paul Chilcote . “No one is excluded from the love of God.”

It can be tempting to make Christmas small: family gathered around the tree, moments with your significant other in front of the fire, quiet nights looking at the Christmas lights in your neighborhood. All are wonderful parts of the season, and a needed respite from the crowds and parties.

In addition to celebrating with those closest to us at this time of year, we should also pause to remember how this blessed event is for the benefit of the whole world. We are called to share the “Glory of the newborn King,” with everyone.

For more devotional thoughts on the seasonal hymns of Charles Wesley click here.

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