Hark, the Herald Angels Sing: Part I
In preparation for writing this series on Christmas carols I spent a lot of time reading lyrics, trying to decide which songs to highlight. After a while, quite frankly, the songs were beginning to look a bit alike—angels singing to shepherds, Wisemen following stars—the melodies changed, but the messages did not…at least until I got to Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, written by Charles Wesley.
Perhaps I should have to go no further than the name to arouse an “of course” from the reader, because Charles Wesley’s hymns are so rich with meaning combined with the beauty of his verse. Of the almost nine thousand hymns Wesley wrote are Jesus Lover of My Soul, Love Divine All Loves Excelling, And Can It Be, O For A Thousand Tongues, and Depth of Mercy Can It Be. His treatment of the birth of Christ is no less deep, meaningful, and full of praise as the rest of his hymns. While other carols tend to make the birth events the main message of their songs, Wesley uses the birth narrative simply as the framework upon which to hang a tapestry of praise.
Hark the herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn King!
He begins by closely mirroring the text of Luke 2, and in his poetic way emphasizes the glories of the message the angels brought to the shepherds, and, indeed, the world. First there is glory to God in the form of this Baby who would be king—King of Glory. His coming had been so long-awaited that it was almost unexpected when it finally happened. The world did not know then, nor does it know now, just how glorious this arrival was. It was veiled in flesh, as we will see later.
“Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled”
During this season we see “peace on earth” on a dizzying number of Christmas cards. We have seen people cry “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Then there’s the laughable cliché of the beauty queens talking about the importance of world peace, so it is understandable that our eyes might race by the phrase as something with which we are overly familiar and find low in impact. If so, stop! Think about it. This peace is not just a state of calm. It is not just an absence of strife between men. The peace spoken of here is both the peace of God and peace with God. Through this little baby would come the reconciliation of Holy God with sinful mankind. When we believe on Him we are given peace. Before we were saved we were at war with God, now we move from being at enmity with God to being His child, from being objects of His wrath to objects of His love. Now, through His unfathomable, costly mercy we have peace with Him. And knowing we have peace with Him, it gives us the peace of God—the sense of security and well-being that comes to someone who no longer has to fear wrath, condemnation, and judgment. God and sinners are reconciled indeed!
Joyful, all ye nations rise
If that doesn’t tickle your joy button the lightbulb of understanding or experiencing this peace hasn’t gone on yet. You need to go back and think about what this peace and reconciliation means to you until you get that thrill in your heart. Pray that the Lord will open your eyes and heart and mind to understand this extraordinary gift. Notice that it’s not just the Jews that are called to rejoice in this long-awaited Messiah, it is “all ye nations.” Want another thrill, readers who are Gentiles? Jesus didn’t just come to redeem Israelites, but to do what God promised Abraham, and bless the whole world through him. Jesus came, as Isaiah had prophesied, to be a light to the Gentiles. As Hosea said, those who were not His people became His people. And as Paul said, the wall of separation was destroyed so that two (Jew and Gentile) could become one in Christ. Jesus Himself said that He had sheep from another flock. Folks, that’s most of us reading this. We are no longer on the outside looking in—all because of Jesus. It is not just that we are included in, but that we are saved from wrath. It is important to understand both these amazing truths to experience the depths of joy over what we’ve been given.
Join the triumph of the skies
Wesley also invites us to join the triumph of the skies. When we praise, when we get caught up in wonder and joy, our hearts and our voices join right in with the worship going on in heaven around the throne. We get a little foretaste of what life will be like in glory.
There is so much to think about just in this first verse of this grand Christmas hymn. Next week we will look at a couple of more verses. In the meantime I encourage you to either pull out a hymnal, or Google the lyrics of Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, and let the Lord work in your heart to enrich your praise.
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries