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Singing the Story: O Come, all ye Faithful

Finally today we are looking at what actually appears to be a  Christmas carol: O come, all ye Faithful.

This is another carol that was from the Roman catholic tradition. It was apparently written by John Francis Wade in 1751 and was in his private collection in Latin. There was some doubt for a while over whether Wade wrote or simply translated the carol, as he was a translator and transcriber, and some of his pieces were so beautifully done in calligraphy that they were considered works of art.

He was said to have slipped it into a manuscript that he was copying for the English Roman Catholic college in Lisbon, Portugal. So the carol came to be known as the Portuguese hymn. The tune was called Adeste Fidelis, which was the tile of the first line in Latin, meaning, come, or come and remain, you faithful.

So the question that immediately makes me ask is: Who are the Faithful?

We may have to come back to that.


Let’s look at the verses themselves, each one focussing on something slightly different.



Verse 1

the first verse asks us to look again in a new way at the baby born in Bethlehem. "Come and behold him." Really look at this baby born in Bethlehem. Because here is born the King of angels. And isn’t this the message that the church has been proclaiming every Christmas? Forget all the other stuff that gets in the way and look at Jesus. Because this is the central act on which Christmas stands or falls. On the identity of that baby everything rests.


Verse 2

the second verse talks of the divine nature of this baby: God of God, light of light, very God, begotten not created. directly quoting the Nicene Creed.


The early Christian church was persecuted under the Romans, and the early Christians huddled in fear, literally underground in the caves and catacombs, and behind locked doors.

The persecutions ended in 311 AD when the Roman Emperor Galerius issued the famous “Edict of Toleration.”

Then Constantine, himself a christian under the influence of his mother ordered the church to get together in Nicaea and resolve the issue of the nature of Jesus in 325ad. Before this Christians could not “Come and adore him” or even get together and talk about him in public!

There was a controversy based around a bishop called Arius who believed and taught that Jesus was a created being like all others. He said that he was not always present with the Father, but was inferior to him.

This was a heresy that had to be stamped out, and the churches champion in this was another bishop called Athanasius.

If Jesus was not God himself, if he was a creature, created later, then his death was only for his own sin like that of anyone else. It was only in being God himself that he could defeat the power of death and hand that same victory on to us.

And so the Nicene creed goes to great lengths to state exactly the nature of who Jesus, the Son, the second person of the trinity is: God of god, light of light, true God of true God, eternally begotten of the father, begotten not made, being of one substance with the father etc.

This carol tells us in quoting those exact words that this is no ordinary baby like the countless others that have been born in the world before that day, and have been born since. This was God himself.

Verse 3 

The third verse centres on the exalted song of the angel choir. They had been waiting since before the creation of the world to sing this song for which they were created, and now the plan was in action and their moment had come. The eternal messengers had their moment. They had always sung in heaven: “Glory to God in the highest”. But now they were singing it on earth. And they were singing a new song that this verse leaves us remembering: “Glory to God in the highest and “Peace on earth to those on whom his favour rests”. Peace on earth. A song that had never been sung. God’s glory and peace ruled in the heavens, but now for the first time there could be peace between God and man, because God had come to earth as a man.


Verse 4 (to be sung christmas Morning)

The fourth verse offers praise to the Lord, the Word of God, who was with the Father from the beginning. “Word of the Father, Now in flesh appearing”. This quotes John 1, the New Testament creation story, which goes back before the Genesis creation story. It is the other “In the beginning” .


In the beginning was the word. And the word was with God, and the word was God.

The word became flesh and dwelt among us”  “we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).


This is John’s Christmas declaration, and also his creation narrative: This is Jesus.


The call to come:

“O come ye to Bethlehem” We don’t have to travel to Israel, in fact I would recommend against it right now. But come to Bethlehem, come and have another look what happened there, and what it means.

We have listened to those imperative commands and we have come. And we keep coming.

O come all ye faithful. So who were the faithful? Here is the surprise! The shepherds were faithful. No-one in their time would have thought of them that way. Faithfulness was not a prerequisite for the shepherd’s job.

But it is the object of their adoration that makes them faithful. Just like it is the holiness of God that makes us holy. Come and behold him.

Come and see Jesus this Christmas. That is what makes you faithful, not your perfection of life and sinlessness. The Pharisees had that, but the message wasn’t told to them, it was told to them that had the time and the humility to come and adore him. The shepherds.

So what made them faithful, joyful and triumphant? It was the presence of Jesus. They were not all these things when they were out in the paddock and heard the song, if they stopped there then they just would have been a bunch of guys who saw a phenomenon.

No, it was when they did what they were commanded, they went and saw what the angels had told them, and then they returned, that they were faithful to what was asked of them.

Luke 2:20. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.



They went on their way praising God. Telling people what they had seen. Some of the first preachers of Christ, just like the women at the tomb were the first preachers of the risen Christ. Like the women at the tomb, they didn’t have the qualifications, but they had the message on their lips, as it was given to them by God. They were faithful.

 Let us adore him. Christ the Lord.


This carol includes twenty demands to “come” “you, (singular), come!” . Twelve more gentle ones to “Let US adore”

You(singular) come and join with us (plural) and adore. The invitation to worship Jesus at Christmas.

Come and join in. Don’t join us because we are so faithful, and joyful and triumphant.

We know who we are. We are fickle and grumpy and defeated so often. That’s not what makes it worth joining us.

But come and adore him with us. Not just come and adore anything, but it is the object that makes us what we are: Christ the Lord. Christ, messiah, the one who was to come.

If we have any purpose here as a church, it is that of the angels. It is that of the shepherds. We point to Jesus. We point to Jesus in a world that needs faith, joy and victory.

O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

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