December 16, 2022
Good Christian Men, Rejoice
(Excerpts from Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas)
The Christmas hymn, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” is the product of two men who were both persecuted for their religious convictions, endured great personal hardships, suffered through lingering illness, and died in relative obscurity. They both vowed to take God’s message of salvation to a lost world and probably died believing that they had accomplished little of lasting value. They were wrong.
The first man was Heinrich Suso, who was born in 1295 to a German noble family. He was given every luxury, went to the best schools and decided to become a priest. While he was a priest, he wrote a book called the Little Book of Truth. This book was progressive for it’s time. He justified taking the gospel and opening it in a way that would bring hope, compassion, and understanding to the common people. For these ideas, he was tried for heresy. He continued to fight for his ideas and wrote a second book called the Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, which was written in plain language for the common people. In 1329, in the hopes of preventing rebellion, the Pope condemned Suso and the German king exiled him. He escaped to Switzerland where he continued to face persecution and slander. He, however, remained staunch in his preaching of the happiness he found in walking with God. The words to “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” came to him after a dream where he saw countless angels singing and dancing. The hymn itself was radical compared to the typical church music of the day, which was very solemn, based completely in scripture, and was never written in the common language. Suso’s music inspired others such as Martin Luther to write songs in the common language.
The second man was James Mason Neale, who was a priest in the Church of England. He is know for writing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” and he is responsible for translating “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” into English. His desire that salvation and faith be seen as a joyful thing was radical for his time as well and he was exiled to a pastorate on an island of the coast of northwestern Africa. In his pastorate, he would start up an order of women to feed the poor, they opened and orphanage and a refuge for prostitutes. Neale translate “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” into English and it has become one of the most beloved Christmas carols in the world.