Hark the Herald Angels Sing SERMON
Here’s the manuscript of a message I preached on the text of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ at our Cookies & Carols service at Cross of Christ Fellowship in 2017:
Cookies and Carols 2017 Message
Before we continue singing, I wanted us to pause and take a few minutes to consider the lyrics of our next carol: HARK the HERALD ANGELS SING. This wonderful song was written in 1739 by Charles Wesley and has been enjoyed by generations ever since. The lyrics are not only beautiful and memorable, but they also do an amazing job of employing imagery from all over the Bible to help us see the greatness of Jesus and the joy of his birth.
The carol begins by drawing our attention to a scene in the Bible, found in the Gospel of Luke. Luke tells us about the birth of Jesus and records this event in Luke 2:10-14: “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
It is from this scene, a scene where numerous angels are singing and rejoicing at the birth of Jesus, that our carol begins. Let’s take a few minutes to consider the lyrics of each verse before we sing it together:
Verse 1: 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! Refrain: Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!
Our carol starts with the word “HARK,” which is an old English word meaning: Look or behold. It is a way of saying, ‘Hey! Look over here!’ The angels are announcing the birth a king, and the who carol fills in the details of this king.
In this first verse the focus is on Jesus, as the KING who restores our broken relationship with God.
We see this in the lyric: “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Perhaps this language and concept is foreign to you, the idea that we can know God. It is a truth throughout the Bible, that the God who made us can be known and loved. We can know God, and this is what we were made for: to know and love God.
The Bible also tell us that this relationship has been broken. Things have gone terribly wrong, we have turned from God and His ways. This is what the Bible refers to as SIN. We don’t want God, we ignore Him, or pretend He does not exists. We don’t want His ways, we want to be our own gods. We have been estranged and alienated from God because of our evil ways, we need to be reconciled with God, who is holy and pure and always does what is right.
But something amazing has occurred: God in His great love has come to bring us back Himself. This is good news! And this is what we see celebrated in the lyric “God and sinners reconciled.” Jesus, the king, has come to bring us back to God—he restores our broken relationship with God! Such amazing news leads not only the angels to sing as they marvel at the love and grace of God. There is also a call for the nations to take part in rejoicing, “Joyful, all ye nations to rise and join the triumph of the skies.” And amazing that is what we are doing here in Naperville, we are part of the many peoples throughout history to celebrate the person and work of Jesus.
Verse 2: Christ, by highest Heav’n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord; Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. Refrain: Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!
The second verse causes us consider this fact: King Jesus is God in the flesh! This verse does a great job reproducing the biblical truth that Jesus was not only truly human, but also truly God. We this in these lyrics: “everlasting Lord,”—Jesus is eternal God. We also see it in “veiled in flesh the godhead see,” “hail the Incarnate deity,” and “Jesus our Emmanuel” (which means God with us). Jesus is TRULY human and also TRULY God. God Himself has come to earth!
Some people want to have Jesus as merely a good teacher, one of many. And perhaps that’s how you think of Jesus. But Jesus himself never gives us that option. He claimed to be God and did and said things that only God could have done. Those in his day recognized that and wanted to stone him. C.S. Lewis once said Jesus was either Lord, Lunatic, Liar. If someone claims to be God, but is not they are either crazy, or lying or telling the truth. What do you make of Jesus? You cannot have him as merely a good teacher, he doesn’t give us that option.
Verse 3: Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n 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. Refrain: Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!
The third verse celebrates the CARE of King Jesus for his people. His CARE is seen in the words “Light and life to all he brings”: in other words, He came to give us spiritual light and life. We also see it in the lyric “risen with healing in his wings.” This is just a poetic way to express the tender and healing care and of Jesus. He comes to heal our broken hearts and lives.
But celebrating the care of Jesus doesn’t end there, we also see it in the threefold refrain, Jesus was “Born” for this: “that man no more may die.” Born “to raise the sons of earth.” And “Born to give them second birth.” Jesus came for a purpose, he was born to rescue us.
How unlike Jesus is to every other leader and individual on earth. We easily see the darkness in the worst leaders, how they use their position for power, selfishness, and self-exaltation. Even the best leaders aren’t completely free of this. But Jesus came to bring healing, he came humbly to save. He used his…
How unlike Jesus is to us. While most of us want to do what is right, we often we choose selfishness and what is false over what is right. We often we care more about ourselves and comfort than other people. This leads to a spiritual death and ruin to our souls and the world. But Jesus came to rescue us, that we might live with God forever and be free of these dark impulses.
Verse 4: Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home; Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed, Bruise in us the serpent’s head. Adam’s likeness, now efface, Stamp Thine image in its place: Second Adam from above, Reinstate us in Thy love. Refrain: Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!
I think the fourth verse is my favorite. Sadly, it is taken out many versions we hear and sing, so maybe you’ve never heard it before. What see in this verse is that Jesus is the King who defeats evil and starts a new humanity. The Imagery is taken here from the first book of the Bible, where read of when things all went wrong. The Bible teaches that the first humans Adam and Eve turned away from God and brought the world into sin and death. But right after this tragic event, God made a promise that there would be a person—from the line of Eve, which our carol calls “the woman’s conquering Seed”)—who would make things right and defeat the darkness. The Bible tells us that this person would bruise the serpent’s head, which is another way to speak of his victory over the Devil and evil. And this is precisely what Jesus did at the cross: though he never sinned, he died on the cross of our sins. Then he rose again from death on the third day. In this amazing act he crushed sin and death.
But he did not only defeat evil, he also brought in the new creation. He came to give a new beginning and to bring us into the new humanity. One way the Bible and this verse speak of the new humanity is by referring to Jesus as a “second Adam.” Now that might sound like a strange title, but think of it like this: the first human, Adam, was the head of humanity and he turned from God and plunged the world in darkness and sin, but along comes Jesus comes as another way to live, he leads us into the truth and the light. Jesus is another type of Adam, one who brings in a new way of living and being human; he shows us to be truly human, and live the lives we were made to live in love for God and one another. In this new way, the patterns and actions of darkness are turned from, and the ways of light, beauty, goodness, and truth are embraced. Jesus is the ‘SECOND Adam’ from above, who reinstates us in God’s love.
What wonderful truths this carol causes us consider. It is the message of Christianity. And when truly grasped and understood, it causes us to say with the angels, HARK, LOOK! Glory be to the newborn King Jesus, who came and saved us. If you have never come to believe in Jesus, we urge tonight: LOOK! Look at the one who alone can fulfill your heart’s desire and alone can save you from sin and spiritual death. Look to the one who restores our relationship with God, who is truly God in the flesh, who cares for us in tender love, and invites us to Himself, to come and be part of the new humanity. If you have believed, we urge tonight: LOOK! This is the one who came in love to save you, the one who will carry you till He comes back again in glory.