“You Got Peanut Butter In My Chocolate”
by Pastor Steve Schantz
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
The unexpected joy and success of a finished musical work where one artist contributes the lyrics and another the melody by choice has been common to the industry for a long time. In the world of taste, a chef pairs a particular food and beverage together to produce a culinary delight. Some of us enjoy the way that Reece’s candy cashed in by bringing two separate and unique tastes together in one successful confection. With chocolate covered tongue in cheek we join the commercialized exclamation, “You got chocolate in my Peanut Butter!”
When Charles Wesley penned the words to “Hark how all the welkin ring/Glory to the King of Kings” in 1739 he intended those lyrics to be set in a melody which would be sung with solemnity and reverence. A century later Felix Mendelssohn had no cathedral or Christian notion in mind as he scored the second chorus of a cantata commemorating John Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. In fact, Mendelssohn was quite adamant that his music was intended to be appreciated in secular settings.
Many people active in Christian community seek to do God’s work with their lives and talents in some very specific ways. Pastors and ministry leaders put programs together, launch building programs, plan vacation Bible School curriculums, craft new sermon or bible study series, perhaps even write a song or pen the script for the annual Christmas concert. Goals are set and plans are made with intentionality and cooperation.
The back story to how Wesley’s verse and Mendelssohn’s music came together is a testament to the wonder of Christmas itself. When a third individual, William Cummings by name, came along in 1855, he brought the work of both these musicians together in spite of their expressed wishes. Cummings took Wesley’s words and Mendelssohn‘s tune and put them together as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. The best of both men’s talents came together in ways neither would have envisioned nor given their blessing to. Yet neither genius nor genre was going to prevent the work of these two men from coming together to herald the good news!
Isn’t that the Christmas story in a nutshell? That God in Christ is doing something which we could never have imagined. Fully investing his perfect Godhood into the messiness of humanity so that we might be joined to Him in an eternal symphony of life? That Emmanuel would chose to join humanity as one of us, stepping into our world and into our lives so that we might be joined to His is a melody only God could orchestrate. Even when we do imagine the King of Kings coming as a newborn we tend to try and tell him what kind of King He should be dragging our heels all the way to the candy store because we don’t recognize the grace of His good news. We to at times insist that the gospel should only be sung in hushed tones with solemnity and reverence. The religious community of first century Judea certainly did not approve of God’s manner nor his method of establishing His Kingdom. When we assume too much as His creatures, we miss the beauty and wonder of His eternal song. His work is always proceeding, always illuminated by a light source that can’t be usurped by the shadowy features our squinting eyes label and claim in the predawn. His is a kingdom that will reveal to all mankind a goodness and a greatness which runs contrary to our nature, our timing, and our methods. Even our well intentioned “No way!” can become “Yes, His way” in Christ.
We appreciate you Chuck Wesley, Herr Mendelsohhn and Billy Cummings for the beauty of the gospel set to music. But we thank the Father most of all for revealing to us His Son! Let the power and message of the music ring – “Pleased, as man, with men to dwell Jesus, our Emmanuel!”