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Christmas Eve Candlelight

Hark the Herald Angels Sing!

 

Some time ago someone from our church commented to me that it would be a good idea to preach from one of the old hymns because their lyrics were so sound and biblically based. When I heard this I thought it was a good idea but I put the idea on a mental shelf and it’s been there a long time. Tonight, I’m finally getting around to it!

 

I used to be a little bit of a scrooge when it came to Christmas. I was never mean or cranky like the Dickens character, but there were things about Christmas I didn’t like. For one thing, there were very few Christmas songs I liked. Generally, I didn’t like any of them except the ones that overtly glorified the Lord Jesus. I was a purist to the point of being a party-pooper. Over the years, I have liked more and more Christmas songs.

 

You know, when you love someone you begin liking what they like. I had that experience the first few years Josie and I were married. I used to despise musicals, probably because they weren’t manly enough. But Josie loved them and she wanted to rent them and watch them with me at home. I acquiesced and I remember us renting a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. It may have been Oklahoma, but I’m not sure. Whatever it was I didn’t look forward to watching it. But once it started playing I thought, “Hey, this is pretty good!” I was hooked after that. I like musicals now.

 

I love my daughter Jael. She told me, “I love Christmas music!” Once I knew that I started liking Christmas songs more.  I even like many songs that have little or no reference to our Lord because most of them are happy songs and…Jael likes them. Some of the ones I like are:

 

  • White Christmas
  • Let it Snow (I like the line, “It doesn't show signs of stopping
    And I've bought some corn for popping” – how can anyone not like a song about popcorn?)
  • There is No Place Like Home for the Holidays ( I like the line, “From Atlantic to Pacific, gee, the traffic is terrific.”)
  •  Mele Kalikimaka
  • Charlie Brown Christmas (instrumental)
  • Pachelbel Canon
  • Almost anything by Nat King Cole.

 

Still though, my favorite Christmas songs are the Christmas hymns. One of those is Hark the Herald Angels Sing. I find the lyrics quite moving. They were written by Charles Wesley in 1739.

 

The first line is the same as the title. “Hark!” That means, “listen!” We ought to listen to the words of any song that we hear. Don’t just listen to songs because of the melody. The words might be detrimental to your spiritual health! Even if you are not paying attention to the words, they are getting into your subconscious when you hear a song.

 

“…the herald…” a herald is someone, or a group, that makes a proclamation. The herald is the angels singing together about Jesus Christ when he was born.

 

What do they sing? What do they herald? They say, “Glory to the new-born king!” Jesus will be king. Not only will he be king when all the world recognizes him (yet future), but he is king even now. He was king when he was born. When Jesus was being questioned by Pontius Pilate and Pilate asked him if he were king, Jesus responded, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I came into this world.” (John 18:37)

 

“Peace on earth.” There has not been peace on earth since Cain rose up and slew his brother Abel. And this is because not only because most of the world still does not recognize that Jesus is King and must be obeyed, but also because the Lord has not yet taken away our sinful nature. One day he will. Then there will be peace on earth. And this peace will be because of Solus Christus – Christ Alone. It is only the result of Christ’s past work on the cross and his present sanctifying work and his future glorifying work, that all sin will finally be done away. Then there will be peace on earth.

 

Even now, this peace is available to those on whom God the favor of God is extended.[1]

 

“Peace on earth and mercy mild.” When Jesus was born, mercy was realized! Oh! How we need mercy! Mercy is not getting what we deserve!

 

“God and sinners reconciled.” Those are four of the most beautiful words in the English language. Do you know that God and sinners are enemies? God hates sin. Who are the “sinners?” They are everyone! We have all sinned. There is none righteous. Not even one! We all need mercy and we all need reconciliation with the Living God. Because of the Incarnation and the work that Jesus accomplished, we are now reconciled to God!

 

“Joyful all ye nations rise…” The coming of Jesus was not just for the benefit of Israel, but for every nation, every tribe, every people…you and me!

 

“Join the triumph of the skies!” His coming was victory over the forces of darkness.

 

“With angelic hosts proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem.’” We have the privilege of proclaiming the same message as the angels and as the apostles. Do not be silent. Proclaim! Vow to make 2018 a year that you will cease to be a silent Christian. Proclaim!

 

“Christ, the highest heaven adored.” There are categories of glory and majesty among the angels. They all, the very highest in heaven, adore Christ. Let us adore him too!

 

“Christ, the everlasting Lord! He is Lord of heaven and earth and his Lordship shall have no end!

 

“Late in time, behold him come…” This is a reference to the writer of Hebrews who said, “In these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.” From the perspective of the Hebrews he was late in time. From God’s perspective he came exactly when he was supposed to come in the eternal counsel of the Godhead.

 

“Offspring of a virgin’s womb.” The divine fact that he was born of a virgin testifies to his divinity.

 

And , my favorite line from the hymn, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity.” When Jesus came he did not come alone. The Father and the Spirit were both with him and in him. He is God in the flesh!

 

“Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.” He is Immanuel, “God with us,” but he is also man. He is fully God and fully man. This is the thing about the older hymns. By and large, their theology is rich and deep and true.

 

“Hail the heaven born prince of Peace! Hail the Sun (s-u-n) of righteousness!” This song worships Jesus!

 

“Light and life to all he brings…” Jesus brings light and he brings life. We have only to receive it. Sadly, many will not, choosing to remain in their sins rather than receiving the gift of God.

 

“Risen with healing in his wings.” Risen! Here is another reason to love this hymn! Not only does it celebrate the birth of our Lord, but it celebrates the resurrection too!

 

“Mild he lays his glory by…” When Jesus came he emptied himself of glory and majesty. We too, with the tiny, miniscule glory we may have, can lay ours by and consider others more important than ourselves.

 

“Born that man no more may die.” Because Jesus was born I do not have to die a spiritual death, which is far worse than physical death. We no longer have to die! Hallelujah! Praise Him! Thank you, Jesus!

 

“Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” This is the final line of the song in many hymnals (ours), although Charles Wesley wrote two more stanzas that you will sometimes see. We will be raised one day. But, in order to be raised, we must experience the second birth. Jesus said, “Unless one is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” It is not merely a matter of living a good life. This is the notion that unregenerate man has of how to get to heaven. Jesus refutes this idea. “Unless one is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” If you have not been born again, call out to the Lord this very night for his mercy in this regard and see what he will do. Be among those who will be raised among the sons of earth.

 

Hark! This song is for you!

 

[1] Luke 2:14.