My Bible College theology prof had a piano in his classroom. We’d sing one of the old hymns of the faith before each class, and he would elaborate on the theological lesson taught in that hymn. Some lament the loss of hymns in church because they teach doctrine so well.
Christmas season is special for many reasons, including the wonderful Christmas carols. Box stores can’t seem to expunge from their Muzaktm the familiar Christmas carols about Jesus and His birth. Some of the most agnostic members of Hollywood and Nashville sing about the baby Jesus, this time of year. Christmas texts from the Bible are everywhere. The poor atheists just can’t avoid hearing a steady stream of “Jesus.”
Christmas Carols can become so familiar that we sing them without really hearing the lyrics. To avoid that mistake, here is a look at HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING.
The music for this classic was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1840. The lyrics were written by Charles Wesley a hundred years earlier. This is one of his best. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing has been named, more than once, the most popular hymn in the English language.
This carol is based on Luke 2:8–20, where the angels appeared to the shepherds. Wesley packed a theological ‘wallop’ into the three verses of this wonderful carol. It shows that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, a basic doctrine of Christianity.
This beloved carol can teach us the basics of Christology (doctrine of Christ) and Soteriology (doctrine of salvation). John 1:10–16 is a dynamic teaching about Who Christ is, and it fits perfectly with the advent of Christmas. It’s not the most traditional Christmas Scripture, but this theological treatise set to music answers many of the questions about Jesus Christ and His preeminent place in Christmas.
How Jesus came
“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 th’ angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.”
Angels are mentioned more than 100 times in the Old Testament, 182 times in the New Testament (in the New International Version). Angels were created before human beings, with powers greater than we have; they are not limited by time and space, as are we.
Angels worship and serve God voluntarily; we know this because Lucifer, the most beautiful and powerful angel, chose to “Un–volunteer”—he defied God and rebelled—so was cast out of heaven with “a third” of all angels. In the Bible, angels appeared in many different forms, and perhaps so also today. For example, Hebrews 13:2 says, Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Everywhere angels appear they inspire awe, and often fear; hence, “Fear not…” Charles Wesley’s hymn calls them ‘herald’ angels (not because they’re named ‘Harold’). A ‘herald’ is one who proclaims or announces important news. The Christmas ‘herald’ angels were supernatural beings who came from God with a divine assignment: announce the arrival of God in human flesh—Immanuel, God with us. We see from this that they were bearers of good news—the best news humans ever received: God is coming to rescue us all from the mess we’ve made of His creation.
These guys were your average, everyday, working stiffs. They were the very blue–collar, common folk in Israel’s workforce. They symbolize all who are common, ordinary, nobody–special people.
These shepherds were huddled in the cold, breathing air fouled by stinking sheep, no hot meals, no 401K retirement plan, no hope of promotion, no fame or wealth, and no appreciation from those they served. These are the men to whom the angels announced, “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Joyful all Ye Nations rise!”
Thank God for shepherds, smelly, ignorant, uncouth, faithful, service–minded, obedient, rejoicing shepherds . . . may we all be like them (minus the aroma).
Qualities Christ possessed and brought with Him
Wesley’s carol names some of Christ’s wonderful traits: Peace, Mercy, Reconciliation and Joy. It doesn’t include the ubiquitous qualities that we prize today:riches, fame, me–first happiness, pleasure. That’s because He came to help us overcome these flaws. God sent Christ with qualities that matter eternally; not the qualities we would ask for, perhaps, but ones that make eternal sense.
Prioritize your priorities
God’s priorities in sending Christ are not necessarily the ones we have.
A parishioner inadvertently revealed his priorities: “Listen Pastor, what I’m trying to say is that certain people might think Noon is too late to be getting out of church; that you don’t need four weeks of vacation; that your huge office is offensive. They might be thinking that a guy my age doesn’t need a guy your age telling me how to raise my kids; and that if it weren’t for your crazy African missions projects, we could have repaved our parking lot by now. I’m not saying those are MY priorities, of course. I just thought you should know what other people might be thinking.”
NEXT TIME: From “How Jesus came” to “Who Jesus is”