Think you know your Christmas songs? Here are a few verses you might not be singing this year that do a great job of encouraging meditation on the wonder of Christ’s incarnation:
1. The Penultimate verse of “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
As a younger person, I never cared much about the other verses to “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” but the longer I live, and the more pain and suffering I witness in and around the Christmas season, the more I need those other verses that look forward to the time when “peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling.” This particular verse — my favorite — reminds us of the hope of rest promised in Christ’s coming kingdom and invites us, in the midst of a busy, loud, and broken world, to simply rest and listen to the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace on earth!”
2. The alternate refrains of “What Child is This?”
Most renditions of “What Child is This?” leave out the alternate lyrics for the song’s “B” section and simply repeat the chorus, “This, this is Christ the King…” But the alternate lyrics give an even more poignant picture of “the babe, the Son of Mary:”
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
3. Pieces of the Nicene Creed in “O Come All Ye Faithful:”
A very under-sung verse of the perennial hymn “O Come All Ye Faithful” features quotes from the Nicene Creed:
True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created…
As a music minister, I know why we don’t sing this verse — it doesn’t fit the poetic meter well and, as a result, is awkward for the congregation to sing. The word, “abhors” doesn’t sing well, but the word “shuns,” which some updated versions have used as a replacement, doesn’t have the right amount of syllables, so it doesn’t fit well either. In short, this is a verse that’s great on the page as a reminder of the miracle of the incarnation, but it’s not so great for a rousing congregational sing along.
4. The third verse of “Joy to the World.”
Anyone who knows me knows that I will always sing verse 3 of this beloved carol. Why? Because it provides beautiful detail of how the whole earth will rejoice in the reign of Christ over creation:
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
5. The last verse of “Angels from the Realms of Glory”
Lots of people cut out the last verse of this hymn (if they even sing it at all — usually opting for the more well-known “Angels we have heard on high” instead). After calling on angels, shepherds, sages, and saints to “Come and worship Christ the newborn King,” it seems redundant to include the final call to “all creation.” But there’s a very good reason to include this final stanza in your Christmas celebrations: it is one of the clearest expressions of praise to God as Trinity that you will find in your hymnal:
All creation, join in praising
God, the Father, Spirit, Son,
Evermore your voices raising
To th’eternal Three in One.
If the constant rotation of the same forty pop Christmas standards is bumming you out before Christmas day has even arrived, I encourage you to pull out a hymnal and let these forgotten verses of Christmas carols remind you of all the reasons there are to rejoice this Christmas season.