“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”
Luke 2:15 (NIV)
‘O come all ye faithful’ is a popular Christmas carol, the Latin version of which was written by John Francis Wade who fled England after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion to teach music in the school for British Roman Catholic exiles in Douai, France.
Some have seen in this carol a secret political code linked to the Jacobite rebellion and that it is actually a birth ode to Bonnie Prince Charlie. In this interpretation ‘faithful’ refers to the faithful Catholic Jacobites. Bethlehem is a common Jacobite cipher for England, and angels (Angelorum), is a pun on English (Anglorum). ‘Come and Behold Him, Born the King of Angels’ supposedly means, ‘Come and Behold Him, Born the King of the English’ – Bonnie Prince Charlie. The original text for the carol, however, has been attributed to various groups and individuals, including St. Bonaventure in the 13th century and King John IV of Portugal in the 17th.
The message of this carol for Christians today is not some code that only initiates of a secret or obscure society or group can understand. Rather it’s one that draws us into the Christmas story in Luke 2:8-16. In this well-known passage, angels appear to shepherds, glorifying God because of the birth of the Saviour, the Messiah, who lies in a manger in Bethlehem. After the angels leave, the shepherds decide to go to Bethlehem in order to find the Christ child. I can imagine them saying something like, “Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem. Let’s come and behold the King of Angels.”
Today this Christmas carol invites all of God’s faithful to come and behold the King of Angels for ourselves, including you and me. Of course, we cannot literally visit Jesus in the manger, but we can come to Bethlehem in a sense. We can come in our imaginations as we allow the Christmas story to inspire us.
The original Latin text of this carol consisted of four stanzas. The first calls us to visualize anew the infant Jesus born as a human being in Bethlehem’s stable. The second stanza reminds us that the Christ child is very God Himself: “God of God, light of light, Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb; Very God, begotten, not created: O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord”. The next stanza pictures for us the exalted song of the angelic choir heard by the lowly shepherds. Then the final verse offers praise and adoration to the Word, our Lord, who was with the Father before the beginning of time.
As we come again to Bethlehem let’s reflect on the miracle of Jesus, “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” And along with the shepherds and the angels let’s come in worship, adoring the Christ who was once born in a manger, lived on this earth, died on the cross, rose on the third day and is now alive forever more.
Father, as we celebrate the reality of Christmas, let’s discover the wonder and joy of living in submission to the Creator who became a child in a manger to die and rise as King.
Study by Barry Robinson
Worldwide Church of God London
Mahatma Gandhi Hall
41 Fitzroy Square
Local Congregational Contact:
Phone: 020 8202 3998