Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
I’ve been thinking about this for over a year. I actually was here in this service a year ago, and I walked out and the song we sang just now was just resonating in my heart. And I just couldn’t get away from it. Week after week, not only in the month of December, but in January, it was just there.
God and sinners reconciled.
You know, we sing songs at Christmas every year. And sometimes, we sing them, and we might miss the intent behind those words. So, part of that was just birthing this idea that we want to be about Jesus, we want to be about what he’s done. But when we sing songs, we not only want to understand the meaning is behind them, but we want to sing them with all of our heart. We want that this is a reality for us, not just an exercise. So that’s part of what it’s about this Christmas is that we want that to be reality in our hearts. So, I would ask you as we begin this morning, just to join me in prayer.
Father, we thank you. We thank you so much that you moved toward us. As Peter just told us, the highest moved to the lowest, to the weakest. And God, we get to celebrate what you have done. So, I pray this morning, Father, that you would strengthen me to share, and then, Father, too, that you would speak to all of our hearts. Would you, by your Spirit, touch each person in this place? May it not be about just one thing or another that is said, but you are touching our hearts, you are doing a work in our hearts and minds, in our emotions that is unmistakably you. God, we need you more than ever. Would you not be present with us now? We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
The last book of the Old Testament is Malachi. And if you’ve read through Malachi, it’s not like you’re really excited about what’s happening there. But within the book, there are a couple of things that God is wanting to remind his people, the people who he’s brought back together out of the Babylonian exile. And these two things will pop out in the passages.
One is “I’m going to send a Messiah.” There’s the promise of a Messiah. But even before the Messiah comes is a promise that “I’m going to send a prophet.” And he says that this prophet will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. That’s where the book ends. And then there’s silence. There’s silence from God for hundreds of years. There’s no new prophet. There’s no Messiah. No further word from God. Just silence.
However, just when you think God’s not doing anything, God shows up in big ways. After 400 years of silence, after the intermission you could say between the Old and New Testaments, it’s as if God, like the director of the most incredible movie, steps up to the edge of the earth, and he shouts,
“Action! Time for things to happen! The fullness of time has come. I am sending forth my Son to redeem my sons and daughters.”
He speaks to Gabriel and says,
“My angel, go to Zechariah and tell him that he and Elizabeth are going to have a son whose name will be John, and he will be great before the Lord.He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord apeople prepared. A new prophet is coming.”
God then sends his angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin, and he tells her she’s going to have a son, whom she shall call Jesus. He says,
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
The Messiah is coming! A new prophet is coming; the Messiah is coming. And then we read in Luke 2,
“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 great 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 unto 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 well pleased.’”
Hallelujah! The silence is over. There is an awesome, awesome breath-taking, fearful spectacular display of the glory of God. It is both thrilling and overwhelming at the same time. The shepherds when they saw it, it took their breath away, fear gripped their hearts. But the angels reminded them, this is good news. Good news of great joy for all people! And it’s being spoken, and it’s being sung across the skies. A Savior has been born – the Messiah who will save the people from their sins.
Charles Wesley, as Rhiannon showed us and talked to us about, he was a man who understood his need for a Savior, who even wondered at times if he would ever be saved. Following his conversion, he was a man who saturated himself with God’s Word. And he understood and captured the moments of Luke 2 in the hymn that we just heard sung, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” Each of the verses contain lines that not only speak of the birth of Christ, but much, much more that exalts Christ and speaks of what he came to do. Every time we sing it, and many of the songs we’ll sing this Christmas season, we should be reminded, and we should be thrilled at what God has done on our behalf.
So, you might ask yourself, “Why do we sing songs in the first place?” And I would say that are primarily two reasons. There are many reasons, but today we will just look at two. The first is to remember what God has done. As Psalm 107 says, we’re to “tell of his deeds in songs of joy.” And this has been the history of God’s people for thousands of years. An example of this is found in Exodus 15, following the miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel. When God parted the Red Sea, Moses wrote these words,
“Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, ‘I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, My father’s God, and I will exalt him.’”
And he’s not finished yet. He’s going to go on for nineteen more verses, just talking about what God has done. And they’re singing this song. It had to be incredible, right? Unbelievable deliverance. And then, we’re going to sing to God! That’s what we’re talking about today and this month. He goes on in verse 11 and says this,
“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”
As God does his works and wonders, his people write and sing songs to him. In 2 Samuel 22, for example, David wrote a song describing the deliverance of God from all of his enemies. 1 Chronicles 16, there’s a song sung when the ark is brought back into Jerusalem. Songs of thanksgiving and rejoicing are sung by these humongous choirs on the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem when the people are brought back from the Babylonian captivity. They rebuilt the walls. First thing they do, huge choirs at the north and the south are singing praises to God. So, songs are written for us to remember what God has done.
A second reason we write songs and we sing is to praise and worship him. Psalm 40 says,
“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”
When people have a new relationship with God, out of the overflow of that we want to sing. Christianity has been described as a religion of people who sing. Well, we have something to sing about, and we have Someone to sing to! A new song is there, and in our singing, it affirms what we believe. But guess what? It also has a purpose for those who hear us singing. It even causes them to want to know why we’re singing and why we’re singing that song. What’s that song about? So, we have the opportunity to share that. People put their trust in the Lord. The songs we sing give praise to God. Psalm 100 says,
“Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing.”
That’s why we sing songs here every week. We’re coming to sing songs of remembrance and praise to our God because of what he’s done in our hearts. We want to engage our minds in thinking these things through because of what God has done in our lives. We sing about it. It’s a joyful thing.
And the songs we are singing today, that we’ll be singing this whole month, they follow that strong, biblical example and tradition of telling the deeds of God and songs of joy and remembering what he has done. We sing songs to exalt our God, to praise the Lord Jesus Christ. Wesley wrote “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” and other hymns to help us remember and to encourage us to sing with the angels about the greatness of our God. So, in order to have a better understanding of the importance of this, let’s look at “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” this morning for a few minutes.
The first thing I want you to notice is the word it begins with, that word, which all of us use every day, Hark! Hark! I’ve used that a bunch this year. But it simply means “pay attention.” Pay attention. And you may ask, “What’s God wanting us to pay attention to?” I think the first thing that, at least, we’re going to say this morning, God is wanting us to pay attention to this fact that he is announcing great news. He is announcing great news that is going to bring great joy to all people.
That’s what the gospel is: good news. The best news, real news, not fake news. News worth singing about! News worth living for! News about what God is going to do to save sinners. News that a new king has been born. And this King is going to bring glory to God and peace on earth. He’s going to make it possible for God and sinners to be reconciled. This indeed is great news, and actually it’s the best news! Sometimes we have conversations with one another and somebody comes up and says, “This is the best news ever!” Have you all ever done that? Best news ever!
Let me tell you. I don’t know what all those news-es were – I don’t think that is a word – but this is the best news! This is the best news. God and man can be reconciled, God and sinners reconciled. Which when we understand it, we’re going to be like the angels, and we’re going to be singing with them, “Glory to God in the highest.”
Secondly, Wesley says, “Hark! Pay attention! This king is God coming to dwell with us. He is veiled in flesh, the incarnate deity.” When the shepherds arrive, see the newborn baby, it required them, on one level, to suspend all their belief about what they were looking at. Because, on one level, all they see is a baby in a manger, but they just had the most spectacular announcement made to them ever. And that’s got to be like helping them try to see there’s something bigger here. I want to see what this is. This is no ordinary baby. As the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 9,
“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. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
This is no ordinary baby. As the angel told Mary,
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son. You shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
This baby was a king. This baby was Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the everlasting Lord. This baby was God coming to dwell in flesh, Jesus our Emmanuel, Jesus our Prince of Peace. The question for us this morning is, do you believe it? Do you believe it? It’s easy to hear the story and not make the connection, I believe that. I don’t believe that was just some fairy tale. I believe that is the truth. Do you believe it?
So, let’s be like the shepherds, pay attention. It may require of us that we suspend our belief with what we can see with our eyes. But we need to ask God to give us a fresh vision of who this child is. He’s not an ordinary baby. We don’t want to miss what God is doing. There was a time when Jesus was out, and he was having these conversations with people. They were focused on one thing, and Jesus said to them, “There’s something greater happening here.” There’s something greater happening. Let’s not let the “something greater” about what God has done; what God is doing just go by us. Something greater God is doing in our midst, maybe in your heart.
That’s the prayer you could have today. “God, do something greater. Give me a vision to see what you’re doing.” We don’t want to be going through the motions this time of year. It’s really easy to do. I know how that is. You know, you start decorating your home or start doing different things, just kind of get into the season, and then the next thing you know, it’s gone. And actually, some all of us are glad. We’re kind of glad to pack everything back up. Don’t miss what God wants you to see during this season. Rejoice! Be filled with wonder!
I have three grandchildren. They are five, three, and one. And there’s something magical – that’s a terrible word – something wonderful. The wonder of what they are thinking when they see little things, you know? Jesus said, “Except you become like a child…,” right? We need to be more like that. We need to have a wonder about this time of year. It’s extraordinary, when you start to really think about it, what God did in sending his Son. We should be filled with wonder.
So, ask God to give you new eyes this holiday season. Ask God to give you faith, and then you be one to give glory to the newborn King. Finally, Wesley says this, “Pay attention. Hark! God wants us to be a part of his family.” Wesley mentions that Jesus was born that man no more may die. He was born to give men second birth.
So, here is how the gospel gets tied in to make that happen. Wesley says it this way. If you don’t remember anything else from this day, remember this, God and sinners reconciled. God and sinners reconciled.
So why is there a need for reconciliation in the first place? Well, let’s just start with trying to understand what happens when reconciliation is needed. I’m afraid that all of us live probably complicated lives for some of us, more simple than others, but we all know what it’s like to either be offended by somebody or to offend somebody. And basically, there is an offended party, and there’s someone who offended, and the relationships are broken. And it’s not easy sometimes to figure those things out. Most often the one offended is the one who needs to move to the offended party, who has offended needs to move to the offended party.
But we know that even when people want to reconcile, it seems as if that’s not always the easiest thing to do. Part of that is we’re sometimes not as humble as we need to be. However here, which is just extraordinary, the broken relationship here is between sinful men and a holy God. It is a broken relationship that cannot be resolved by men, even if we wanted to get it resolved. Because Romans 3 says,
“No one is righteous. No one. No one understands. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they have become worthless. No one does good, not even one.”
Not one person is reaching out to God saying, “I’ve offended you.” None. That’s the reality of our sinful condition. However, we have an amazing God. In reconciling sinful man to himself, God totally flips the script. He is the offended party, and he reaches out to those who have offended him, sinned against him. He moves toward sinners and offers reconciliation through his Son. And as this hymn reminds us, he announces this across the skies. Romans 5 puts it this way.
“For while we were still weak (or powerless) at the right time (at the appointed time), Christ died for the ungodly…”
which is a description of all mankind. We are dead in our sin, not righteous in any way. That’s the ungodly. We don’t have any fear of God. We’re incapable of rescuing ourselves from God’s wrath and judgment, but then, Christ died for us.
“…Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person, one would even dare to die, but God…”
two of the greatest words ever in Scripture. Circle them, highlight them. Everything looks really a worst-case scenario ever, but God shows his love, his unprecedented, his unparalleled love for us “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we’ve now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” And here it is. “For while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation.” God and sinners can be reconciled. Hallelujah!
I’ve always admired these gymnasts, I know this is really out of the blue, that can do those headstand flips. You know what I’m talking about? You know that they start running and then… Wouldn’t it be great? That’s how I feel. That’s what we should do. When we hear that, we should be doing flips. I mean, it’s incredible news. God and sinners reconciled by the divine act of God. God not man brings about reconciliation. He initiates the transformation for me being his enemy to me having the possibility of being his friend. You and I don’t do a thing. You and I actually were opposed to God’s rule. We were separated from him with no hope.
As Kistemaker says,
“We offended God by breaking his commands and sinning against him. Therefore, the initiative for reconciliation should have come from us, for we are the offending party. Instead, we read that God, as the offended party, reached out to us to achieve restoration of the relationships. God took the initiative and completed the work of reconciliation before we, as sinners, began to respond to God’s gracious invitation to be reconciled to him. In brief, God restored the relationship between himself and us, so that his new creation for us could be fully realized.”
God makes reconciliation possible. A good question to ask ourselves again this morning is, “Am I reconciled to God? Is that true?” I don’t know. But you know the kind of life you live. You know what you’re living for. Is it the life that says, “I’m reconciled to a holy God? I want to love him and please him.” Or is it the idea, “I like my life just the way it is.”
I’m glad the tag God on when appropriate or when I think I need him. I would just pray that, as we’re going through this, if that’s where you are, you would be reaching out to God, saying, “God, I’m not reconciled to you. I want to be reconciled to you. I want my sins forgiven. I want to have a relationship with you.”
If that’s where you are today, we’re here and we’ll be glad to pray with you. Today can be a day of salvation. Today can be the day that you can be reconciled to God. If you have been reconciled, notice again what Paul says here in verses 10 and 11. Those who have been reconciled to God now also rejoice in God. If you’ve been reconciled, you’re rejoicing. We’re rejoicing in God. Our testimony can be like the testimony of the psalmist in Psalm 34 when he says this,
“I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall be continually in my mouth. My soul makes this boast in the Lord. Let the humble hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together.”
It’s out of the overflow of what God has done in our lives, we get to give him praise, glory, and honor. We rejoice in him. We’re so thankful for him. We’re so thankful for what he’s done. We want to praise him all the time. God’s enemies can be reconciled to him; we can become part of his family.
This broken relationship can be reconciled. We can, and we should rejoice, and we can rejoice always. 2 Corinthians 5 puts it this way, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come. All this is from God.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” Kistemaker says,
“This is an astounding statement that reveals God’s infinite love. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. What unbelievable love!”
Jesus Christ our King. Jesus our Lord. Jesus our Emmanuel. Jesus our Savior. Jesus the conqueror of sin and death, the conqueror of evil and the devil comes to redeem and restore us. And because he came, God and sinners can be reconciled. There can be peace on earth. Again, this is the greatest news, the best news ever. Rejoice!
I know that Christmas can be a difficult time of year for a lot of people for a variety of different reasons. I understand that. I understand dark days. I understand silent days. I understand days of hopelessness. But let me encourage us all today, if you have been reconciled to God, you can rejoice. No matter what your current situation is, you can have joy because you’ve been reconciled to God, despite your circumstances. Remember that the Christmas season is important just because of that fact alone.
God sent his Son so that we can be reconciled to him. We can have joy. Celebrate the birth of the King of kings. Celebrate that the Messiah has come to reconcile us to God. He has come, and he is coming back again. And actually, that’s the best news ever.
He is coming back again. We don’t know when. Four hundred years of silence between the Old Testament the New Testament. And a couple thousand years he says is like the lightning goes across the sky, it could be that quick. Be ready. He’s coming back.
Today, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is holding together all things by the word of his power. Today, he loves us with an everlasting love. And there’s nothing going on in our lives that can separate us from his love. No matter what is going on in your life right now, Jesus is the answer. He knows our joys and he knows our sorrows. He is our high priest. He’s familiar with everything about us. Go to him.
He is praying for us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says this,
“For our sake, he (God) made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.”
See what it just said? The reconciled become righteous. So, the reconciled rejoice, and the reconciled become righteous. What more could you want? It’s really unbelievable. All of this because Jesus has come. He was born that “man no more would die. Born to raise the sons of earth; born to give them second birth.” Because of him, God and sinners are reconciled. Each and every one of us should want to join with the angels in the triumph of the skies.
Hopefully, by now, you might be getting a little taste of why we think the Christmas season is so important. There are a lot of things that people tell us that Christmas is about but let us be really clear. Christmas is about what God came to do.
It’s about what God came to do and what he’s going to do on our behalf. He put it all into motion at the fullness of time. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ our Savior, our Deliverer born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. We get to be members of the most incredible family ever. God’s family. We get to call a holy God our Father.
Think about it sometimes when you read, and you get to Matthew 6 and Jesus says, “Pray in this way: Our Father…” If you’re not already on your knees, you ought to be. We get to call the God who spoke the universe into being our Father.
We get to be a part of his family. We’re no longer slaves to sin. We are sons and daughters of God, heirs of the most unbelievable inheritance ever.
Peter the apostle says it this way,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this, you rejoice.”
“In this, you rejoice.” So, days, weeks ahead as we are singing the songs of Christmas, everywhere you go you’re going to hear them. I was in the airport this past Monday in Baltimore, getting ready to fly back here. And what do I hear, sitting at the gate? Christmas carols.
I was almost in shock. I didn’t know if that was appropriate. But take time when you hear these songs, when you find yourself singing them, take time to ask God to make those truths fresh in your heart and mind again. These are truths that we don’t want to forget. We don’t want to actually just do it this month. It should be a part of our lives year-round. Let these truths affect your heart and mind and emotions. Then let’s be singing these truths like we believe them.
Remember, you are one of the ones that God has reconciled to himself. Remind yourself. “That’s me! I’m reconciled to God.” And as we sang a couple of weeks ago, a song we sing often, remember he is a good, good Father. That is who he is. And who am I? Who am I? Who do I get to be? I get to be the one loved by him, that’s who I am. It’s who you are. We have a good Father and we’re loved by him.
Now we’re going to do something a little unusual. Peter actually started this a few weeks ago, which I thought was quite remarkable. I don’t know if you remember. I assume he did it in the second service, but he actually got up here and sang, led the singing. You all remember that? He skipped out. I was going to have him come up here and join us, but I would like for us all to stand. My voice is a little scratchy, but I would love for us to sing together this first verse of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” We’re not going to have any instruments. It’s all good.
We can do this. I would ask that you ask God that as we sing this now, you are singing this because you believe these things. Okay?
It’s got a low note to start, so I’ll try to help us. But all of you singers can just get going here. But here we go.
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 the ‘angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Father, we do rejoice. We give you glory. Father, we pray that you would kindle afresh in our hearts the truth about what we say we believe, that you have sent your Son for us so that we could be reconciled to you. Thousands of years have gone by. Men had no hope. You spoke. Out of the darkness you sent your Son. He was here on this earth and he is coming back.
God, help us to remember these things. Give us joy. Give us a rejoicing heart. Give us opportunities to share the gospel with our friends, family, coworkers. Wherever you put us, God, help us to be those who are rejoicing about what you’ve done. We praise you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I would like for you to join me and let’s read this benediction together.
“Jesus is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
Go in peace, rejoicing.