This Christmas, try a new arrangement to old Wesleyan carols

This Christmas try a new arrangement to old Wesleyan carols

What new carols do we have to sing for Christmas this year? Consider a “new” Charles Wesley song.

“Let Earth And Heaven Combine” is a Christmas hymn well-known to Methodists, and its text was among the Charles Wesley texts that were given to local composers at the annual “The Faith We Sing” songwriting and singing retreat, where they were challenged to set new music to well-known, traditional texts.

So be it traditional or contemporary—there’s one for you! For those who prefer something more contemporary, Nigel Goh has set the lyrics to an upbeat synth pop and re-titled it “God With Us”. Others may prefer the contemplative choral arrangement by Joy Nilo.

Whichever version you choose, the text brings you the theology behind the wonder and paradox of incarnation, presented in a robustly succinct yet poetically accessible manner. Verse 1 summarises the doctrine which serves as the springboard from which it is further explored:

Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.

In Verses 2 through 4, the image of the nativity is transformed into a statement of God’s humility and nearness. God is not distant but “laid His glory by”, taking up the shape and form of our human clay. And he did so, as decreed by Scripture, mostly unnoticed, as “unmarked by human eye, the latent Godhead lay”. Because of the incarnation, not only may we now understand our lives and physical presence as good in the eyes of God who has shared the experience with us, we can also experience “the life of God” in a whole new way because God has been made “manifest below”.

How so? In keeping with the Wesleyan concept of Christian Perfection, Verses 5 and 6 touch on the end goal of the lifelong pursuit of holiness. God makes us “all divine” through the process ofsanctification—”made perfect first in love, and sanctified by grace”. However, the rising crescendo of theological thought climaxes not on man, but on God’s vision for the whole creation:

His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

Let me encourage you to give one of these new arrangements a try at the upcoming Christmas service (or the week after, as it is still within Christmastide) to complement your usual Christmas worship songs.

Sing it with a fresh view of the Christmas narrative. In doing so, may we find signs of Jesus’ presence in our own life and in the world around.

“Let Earth And Heaven Combine”
Words: Charles Wesley, Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord (London: Strahan, 1745).

1. Let earth and heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs Divine
The’ incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.

2. He laid His glory by,
He wrapp’d Him in our clay,
Unmark’d by human eye
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days He here became,
And bore the mild Immanuel’s name.

3. See in that Infant’s face
The depths of Deity,
And labour while ye gaze
To sound the mystery:
In vain; ye angels, gaze no more,
But fall, and silently adore.

4. Unsearchable the love
That hath the Saviour brought,
The grace is far above
Or man or angel’s thought;
Suffice for us, that God we know,
Our God is manifest below.

5. He deigns in flesh to’ appear,
Widest extremes to join,
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all Divine;
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.

6. Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face;
His love shall then be fully show’d,
And man shall all be lost in God.

You may find these songs and more on our resource portal, after creating a free account and following this link: https://portal.msmusic.edu.sg/items/210

Justin Chan is a Programme Executive at Methodist School of Music, Worship & Church Music Department.