Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Even though some radio stations and stores have been playing it for more than a month already, I prefer to wait until the start of Advent to put Christmas music. One of my favorite Carols is Hark the Herald Angels sing, inspired by the birth narrative in Luke 2.

Over the next few weeks at The Orchard Church we're going to be talking about why Christmas is so important, and in a real sense the rich lyrics of this great old carol powerfully remind us.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing,
“Glory to the newborn King:
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Hark the Herald Angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

It’s hard to read this without actually bursting into song!

Hark basically means "listen" or "hear," and then this whole first verse really speaks about the Incredible news that the angels announced that very first Christmas.

The second line says: Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
This was essentially the great message that was given. Today we often misquote the Luke passage as "peace on earth and good will to men" – when actually the Scripture says, "Peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased…" That is that the peace of God is made available to those who please God by responding rightly to the provision that He has made for them in His Son.

This idea comes out here in the carol, where we sing, Peace on earth and mercy mild.
Today we usually think of mild in terms of gentleness. But one of the uses of the word in Wesley’s day that has now largely fallen out of use, was kindness or grace. So when we sing this, we are actually singing, Peace on earth and gracious mercy because now God and sinners can be reconciled!

That was the message of the angels and that is the message of the carol. That because of the birth of Jesus Christ the peace that comes from being forgiven by God and reconciled to him is available! What incredible news!

The carol goes on, Joyful all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies, with angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem…
Again this comes right out of the Luke passage and the announcement of the angels – "Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people or all nations."
This is in essence an invitation for us to join with the very angels in heaven in proclaiming and praising God for the birth of Jesus.

While the first verse speaks of the angels message, the second speaks in particular of the incredible truth that God himself has come to dwell with his people.
This truly sets Christianity apart from any and every other religion or faith system, that God himself would willing come and dwell amongst his people, taking on human flesh.
See the words of the carol, that we sing,

Christ by highest heaven adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come,
Off spring of the virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

This verse begins by proclaiming who this child is. He is Christ, that is the promised Savior, and he is adored by the highest heaven. This speaks of the greatness of who He is, He is the everlasting Lord. That is God himself, who now lays in a feeding trough in a dirty, draughty stable.

We sing, late in time, behold him come. This is one of those expressions that has changed a little over time. Some us as we are going through various challenges and struggles do sometimes feel like God is kind of showing up a bit later than we would like him to, but that is not what is being talked about here. In fact this comes from Galatians 4:4, "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…"

That is that late in time, behold him come, means at just the right time, he came. Then the carol speaks of his virgin birth (offspring of the virgin womb) that is attested to in the gospels and is in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Again this is kind of an invitation to look on who this child is, He is God in human flesh, come to dwell amongst us, Incarnate. That is a theological word that we use to talk about God taking on humanity. The Godhead, is used to talk about the Trinity, that there is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and that this is God the Son who we are talking about here, deity incarnate!

Pleased as man with man to dwell. I love this line because it reminds us that Jesus willingly took on humanity. He was pleased to come as man with man to dwell.
Jesus our Emmanuel. Again this phrase points us back to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 where the promised child who would be born of a virgin was to be called, Emmanuel which means God is with us.
Right there is the wonder of Christmas, Emmanuel, GOD IS WITH US!

Then from speaking of the announcement of the angels, to the identity of the child, the carol moves us to give praise to Him for His works on our behalf.

Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the Sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark the Herald Angels Sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

This verse starts with these two titles, Prince of Peace comes right out of another prophecy from the prophet Isaiah in chapter 9, where we are told that:
For to us a child is born,
to us a Son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…

The second phrase used as a title here comes right out of another Old Testament prophet, Malachi in chapter 4:2. Malachi, speaks of the coming of the day of the Lord and how those who are God’s true people will joyfully see the Sun of Righteousness rise with healing in its wings. Wesley, the hymns author here uses this as a title for Jesus. The message here of the carol is rich and powerful, because according to John 1 Jesus has indeed bought the gift of light and life to all who accept him.
Then, Wesley speaks of how Jesus laid aside his majesty, his glory as God, exchanging it for the humility of the manger and ultimately the cross, this coming out of Philippians 2.

We see the same word “mild” here that we saw in the first verse and again it has the connotation of graciously. So we can understand it as with undeserved grace toward us, he willingly lays aside his glory.

Born that man no more may die. This truly is the wonder of Christmas. Not only is Jesus Christ our Emmanuel – God with us, but He came to die so that we could live. Nothing about Jesus’ life and ministry was an accident, least of all his death, he came to take on himself the punishment that we deserved for our sins, the things that separate us from a holy God so that we could be reconciled – God and sinners reconciled, so that we could be freed from our slavery to death and instead set free to eternal life with Him.

Born to raise the sons of earth, that’s us. Born to give them second birth, that idea is right out of John chapter 3 as Jesus tells Nicodemus about the need to be born again and where we find those wonderful words… for God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Then comes the piece that most of us either don’t know or ignore, because in John 3:17-18 it says:
For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

As the busyness of the season begins to press in, I encourage you to stop and reflect, to stop and listen, to stop and to "Hark" what the "Herald Angels Sing."

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