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Good Christian Men Rejoice

Dr. Ray Pritchard
Dr. Ray Pritchard
2015 21 Dec

Haitian Nativity Scene, Source

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 ESV).

Have you ever heard of a macaronic hymn?

I hadn’t either until I began to read the story behind “Good Christian Men Rejoice.” In the first place, this hymn goes back a long way, back at least to the Middle Ages when it was sung in Latin mixed with German. That’s the “macaronic” part. It means a hymn containing words and phrases from two different languages.

That gives us a clue about the origin of this carol. Mixing two different languages means it probably started as a folk tune of some sort. A German mystic named Heinrich Seuse is thought to have written the first version in 1328. He said he heard angels sing these words and then joined them in a dance of worship.

We have no way to verify that.

Over the generations it was translated into various European languages, and eventually became known as “In Dulce Jubilo,” which means “In sweet rejoicing.” Martin Luther may have written one of the verses. In 1745 a group of Moravian missionaries in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania sang this carol in 13 different European and Native American languages. In 1853 John M. Neale produced the translation we use today.

The music has been around almost as long as the words, going back to at least 1400. Bach used it twice and Franz Liszt included it in one of his piano suites.

As for the carol itself, the jubilant tone reminds us Christmas ought to be the most joyous season of the year:

Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul, and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say: News! News! Jesus Christ is born today;
Ox and ass before Him bow; and He is in the manger now.
Christ is born today! Christ is born today!

The second verse reminds us why Christ came:

Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Joy! Joy! Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened the heavenly door, and man is blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!

The final verse gives us the gospel promise of everlasting life:

Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye need not fear the grave: Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all, to gain His everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!

You can see the gospel progression in the last lines:

The fact of his coming: “Christ is born today!”
The reason for his coming: “Christ was born for this!”
The promise of his coming: “Christ was born to save!”

Let’s listen to the beautiful simplicity of this rendition by the Robert Shaw Chorale.

O Lord, may we never forget the real reason for Christmas. If Christ had not come, we would never be saved. Thank you for everlasting life through Jesus Christ! Amen.

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