Popular carol rich in meaning for Christians, says Hiltz

Published December 22, 2016

A well-known carol suggests that Christmas ought to be a surprising time for Christians, writes Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in his annual Christmas message.

Hiltz begins his message, released Dec. 21, by noting the variety of ideas people have about what makes a good Christmas: worshiping with Christmas liturgy, gathering with friends and family, doing good works or reflecting on Scripture, for example.

His own understanding of Christmas, Hiltz says, has been deepened by reading reflections on the holiday by Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury. Williams, writes Hiltz, says Christmas “ought to be a very surprising time,” because the nativity story has the power to refresh our “stale pictures and thoughts about God and about humanity.”

Williams reaches this conclusion, Hiltz writes, after reflecting on carols such as “Hark! the herald angels sing.”

Hiltz then discusses the carol-a perennial favourite of his, he writes-and Williams’s interpretation of it. In the first verse, Hiltz says, one is first lifted to the angelic realms, brought down to the manger and finally sent out to the world to announce the Good News. The second verse, he says, ponders the mystery of the incarnate God, “pleased as Man with man to dwell.”

On this mystery, Hiltz notes, Williams, in his book, A Good Year, says: “God habitually works not by breaking into the world, but by filling out the world from within…In this life that begins at Bethlehem there is no little corner or gap where humanity breaks off and God starts. Everything is soaked through with divine energy and love and light.”

The third verse, says Hiltz, addresses the remaking of humanity in Christ. Again citing Williams, he writes that in this remaking there is “a letting down of our defenses against one another and against God which is the path to fullness of humanity.”

This, Williams writes, is enabled by our contemplation of the Incarnation-“the good news of what kind of God our God is and the good news of what our humanity might be.

“And in the light of that, just maybe each of us is able to say that is a way, a life, which I want to be possible for myself and for the world,” Williams writes.

Hiltz says he finds Williams’s reflections on the meaning of Christmas to be helpful not only during the holiday season, but in life generally.

He concludes his message by wishing Anglicans “a good Christmas.”


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

Related Posts

Skip to content