I suspect we all have some favorite songs we return to at Christmas. One of my favorites is Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” written in 1739.
As a boy, I had sung Wesley’s hymn with my church when we went caroling and in worship. I memorized the words. As a young adult, I began to pay more attention to the meaning. The meaning began to look like a tree decorated for Christmas with an unending array of splendor and delight.
Wesley’s lyrics are full of biblical imagery that span the full landscape of scripture. In the opening lines, “Hark, the Herald Angels sing, ‘Glory to the New born King’…” we are in the fields with the shepherds around Bethlehem listening to the angels announce the birth of the Messiah.
In the next phrase of “God and sinners reconciled,” the song summarizes the promises of God to Abraham, and the visions of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and then onto the pages of John’s Revelation where the picture is of God making his home among his people, wiping the tears from their eyes, and making all things new (Rev 21). In short fashion, the lyrics touch on the major promise and work of God from Genesis to Revelation.
Each stanza of Hark! is full of stories, metaphors, and truths of who Jesus is—the incarnate God who is pleased to live among us. It’s also full of the stories of our lives when we’re open to receiving the gift of grace: that we can be reconciled to God and to one another, that we can be friends with God, that we can have life and light. Ultimately in Jesus’ resurrection there is healing in his wings for the hurts and disappointments of life, and over the last enemy – death.
Wesley’s Hark! arrested my attention because I had been immersing myself in the pages of scripture and I found the song connected the dots. I was taken up in its wonder because I saw the words being lived out in the lives of people I knew. People who had been living in darkness were encountering new light and life. God’s gift of Himself was transforming them. Friends I knew who were distant from God and others, were finding reconciliation; peace was really happening. And, maybe most importantly, the healing power of Christ’s resurrection was at work healing deep sorrows, of my own, and of our community.
Through the darkness of night, Hark! took the song of the angels at Bethlehem and put the gospel into my world. Today, I sing it with exceeding joy – in what God has done, and in great hope and anticipation. The world we live in still needs His Light and Life. My world still knows plenty of unrest. Yet, I continue to see God making peace on earth, with mercy mild. “Glory to the Newborn King.”
Join us this Sunday in worship and at one of the five Christmas Eve services—Sunday at 5pm, Monday at 10am, 4, 6, and 8 pm. Join us in singing Glory to the Newborn King!
Much Love to you,