No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
—John 1:18 (NLT)
LOOK: The Word by Nicholas Mynheer
This sculpture on the theme of the Incarnation of the Word was commissioned by the Cathedral Church of Saint Philip in Birmingham, England, for the new millennium. The sun shines on the work through the south window, casting light from the colored glass pieces over and across the stone and the surrounding wall.
“The changing light and shadows represent for me the ongoing Incarnation and not merely an historical event,” says artist Nicholas Mynheer. He notes the combination of heaven (glass) and earth (stone).
This is a Trinitarian image: the Father, anthropomorphized but nongendered, presents his glory, the Son, spoken, breathed, coming as infant, and both are embraced by the arcing sweep of the Holy Spirit.
LISTEN: “Jesus, Light of the World” | Words by Charles Wesley (stanzas), 1739, and George D. Elderkin (refrain), 1890 | Music by George D. Elderkin, 1890 | Performed by Isaac Cates and Ordained on Carol of the Bells, 2014 (soloists: Margaret Rainey and Kami Woodard)
Hark! the herald angels sing. Jesus, the light of the world. Glory to the newborn King, Jesus, the light of the world.
We’ll walk in the light, beautiful light. Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright. Oh, shine all around us by day and by night. Jesus, the light of the world.
Joyful, all you nations, rise. Jesus, the light of the world. Join the triumph of the skies. Jesus, the light of the world.
Christ, by highest heav’n adored. Jesus, the light of the world. Christ, the everlasting Lord, Jesus, the light of the world.
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace. Jesus, the light of the world. Hail the Sun of righteousness! Jesus, the light of the world.
In 1890 Chicago publisher George D. Elderkin adapted Charles Wesley’s beloved Christmas hymn text “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” using the first two lines of Wesley’s stanzas 1, 2, 3, and 5 and adding a refrain that’s based on a Fanny Crosby text from 1880. For the music, he wrote a gospel waltz. Although Elderkin was not African American, this hymn has become especially well loved in Black churches. Read a more detailed history of the hymn’s composition at the UMC Discipleship website.
Isaac Cates’s 2014 arrangement and recording is my favorite. Cates is a gospel vocalist, arranger, and pianist who performs with his choir, Ordained.
Linda Syddick (Aboriginal name Tjunkiya Wukula Napaltjarri) (ca. 1937–2021) was a Pintupi artist from Australia’s Western Desert region whose work was influenced by her Christian and Indigenous beliefs and heritage. Living a seminomadic lifestyle until the age of eight or nine, she settled with her family at the Lutheran Mission at Haasts Bluff in the 1940s. She was taught to paint in the 1980s by her uncles Uta Uta Tjangala and Nosepeg Tjupurrula, who were both significant figures in the Papunya Tula art movement. She painted Tingari and biblical stories and was a three-time finalist for the prestigious Blake Prize, a religious art competition. Her works are held by the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and many other institutions.
In Syddick’s 2003 Nativity, a series of wavy, concentric blue and white lines encompass Joseph, baby Jesus, and Mary, while many more lines in blue and beige converge on the trio from the image’s border. To me the artwork conveys a vibrating joy! And myriad pathways leading to the birth of the Savior.
Jesus is the centerpiece of the composition, a little tot represented geometrically as a circle. What do you see in this form? A sun? An egg? A pebble thrown into a lake, sending ripples outward? A reverberant well?
LISTEN: “Shout Your Joy” | Original German words by Johannes David Falk, 1816 (stanza 1), and Heinrich Holzschuher, 1826 (stanzas 2–3) | English translator unknown | Music by Reindeer Tribe, 2011
O thou joyous day! O thou holy day! Gladsome Christmas is here again!
O thou joyous day! O thou holy day! Gladsome Christmas is here again! When the world was rent and torn, Christ was born on Christmas morn! Shout your joy to all the world! Shout your joy to all the world!
O thou joyous day! O thou holy day! Gladsome Christmas is here again! Christ now is living, his mercy giving. Shout your joy to all the world! Shout your joy to all the world!
O thou joyous day! O thou holy day! Gladsome Christmas is here again! Choirs of angels singing, joy and honor bringing, Shout your joy to all the world! Shout your joy to all the world!
This song by Reindeer Tribe has its origins in a tri-holiday hymn written in German in 1816 by Johannes David Falk. Falk wrote one stanza for each of the three main festivals of the church year—Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost—for the use of the children at the orphans’ school he ran in Weimar, paired with a preexisting tune known as O SANCTISSIMA or SICILIAN MARINERS. After Falk’s death, in 1826, his assistant Heinrich Holzschuher isolated the Christmas stanza and added two additional stanzas, turning it into a carol, known by its opening phrase, “O du Fröhliche” (O Thou Joyous [Day]). This Christmas carol is still widely sung in Germany today.
O du fröhliche, o du selige, gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit! Welt ging verloren, Christ ist geboren: Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!
O du fröhliche, o du selige, gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit! Christ ist erschienen, uns zu versöhnen: Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!
O du fröhliche, o du selige, gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit! Himmlische Heere jauchzen Dir Ehre: Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!
Reindeer Tribe chose one of the several available English translations (translator unknown) and wrote new music for it that really captures its celebratory spirit. They add a repeat of the last line of each stanza and call the song “Shout Your Joy.” If you’re looking for recordings in English that use the traditional tune, you can search under “O Thou Joyful Day” or “Oh How Joyfully.” For alternative English translations, which each has merit, see here, here, and (by Beale M. Schmucker) here.