Monday, 7 January 2013

The Greatest Carol Of All! But what does ‘Hark the herald angels sing’ actually mean?

The carol known as ‘Hark the herald angels sing’ though originally written by Charles Wesley and published in 1739 about a year after his conversion experience arrived in its current form only after changes were made to it by at least for people including the famous George Whitfield. It was also the hymn which I think was significant, sung at the end of the great Christmas movie ‘It’s a wonderful life’. Remember when all George Baily’s friends came in at the end to bail him out as he had bailed out many before him. Here in this hymn we see God’s rescue plan to redeem and bail out all of humankind.


Like all Wesley’s hymns they are all theological based having important truths in them that can feed our souls and give us spiritual life. The hymn is based round the story of the Angels who spoke to the shepherds while they were looking after their sheep from the wolves and predators that would have inhabited the countryside. Their words were

“Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. 11 This very day in David's town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord! 12 And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”13 Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased

Hence Wesley in the hymn writes :

'Hark! The herald angels sing',
Hark means to ‘listen up’ or ‘hearke’n to what they are saying. Or in Belfast Will ya listen ta me!

When it says the ‘herald angels’ it simply means the angels who are proclaiming or heralding the message of good news.Which was “Glory to the newborn King’ , but it was not just an ordinary king but a very special one.
Now when it says ‘
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
It means there is the potential for this for peace and mercy. Christ’s death does not automatically bring peace and mercy for all and make God and sinners reconciled. As the angel declares later ‘ peace on earth to those whom he is pleased. That is those who respond to the new born Messiah and follow his ways.

As Paul wrote to the Romans Christians some forty years after this event on the Judean countryside
Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have[a] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 He has brought us by faith into this experience of God's grace, in which we now live.

And again

For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked at the time that God chose. 7 It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. 8 But God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! 9 By his blood[d] we are now put right with God; how much more, then, will we be saved by him from God's anger! 10 We were God's enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Now that we are God's friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ's life! 11 But that is not all; we rejoice because of what God has done through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has now made us God's friends.

The angels here are proclaiming what the new born King can do if we are wise and follow him - if we put our faith in him. The message was in fact not only for the shepherds or the Jews but all the nations, as the writer joyfully invites all nations to join with him:

Joyful, all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With th’angelic host proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem

The second verse then speaks of Christ being the eternal or everlasting Lord. He didn’t just appear two thousand years ago but has existed before time in eternity having no beginning or end! Christ was not merely an angel but was

‘by highest Heav’n adored he was

Christ the everlasting Lord;

He was the Lord God.Yet as the Lord of glory he left that glorious home to come to earth. AS another hymn states:

He held the highest place above,

Adored by all the sons of flame,

Yet such His self-denying love,

He laid aside His crown and came

To seek the lost,

And at the cost

Of heavenly rank and earthly fame

He sought me -- Blessed be His name!

And in seeking the lost he became a human baby

'If GOD became man THEN what would He be like?" Or "Did Jesus possess the attributes of GOD? To begin to answer this question we must first answer another question, namely, why would GOD become man? We will use an ant illustration. Imagine you are watching a farmer plow a field. You notice an ant hill will be plowed under by the farmer on his next time around. Because you are an ant lover, you run to the ant hill to warn them. First you shout to them the impending danger, but they continue with their work. You then try sign language and finally resort to everything you can think of, but nothing works. Why? Because you are not communicating with them. What is the best way to communicate with them? Only by becoming an ant can you communicate with them so they will understand. '

Now, if GOD wanted to communicate with us, what would be the best way? We see that in order for Him to communicate with us, He could best do so by becoming a man and thus, reach us directly.

In the third verse the writer notes :

'Late in time, behold Him come,'
As far back as the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 3.15 it was prophesied that Eve’s seed would come and defeat Satan even though Satan would bruise her seed with her seed being Christ. This was speaking of Satan’s defeat on the cross and the suffering that Christ would undergo.

15 I will make you and the woman hate each other; her offspring and yours will always be enemies. Her offspring will crush your head, and you will bite her offspring's[heel.”

Then the writer speaks of the babe’s supernatural birth. The child was not born the normal way between a male and a female but as Luke records ‘ the power of the most high would overshadowed the virgin Mary :it would indeed be an

Offspring of a virgin’s womb.

and Veiled in flesh (which was the little babe)we would the Godhead see;

Then we have the triumphant praise:

Hail th’incarnate Deity, Which means praise to God who has come in flesh He was both God and man. The new born was deity in humanity.
He was not forced to come by his Father but he was pleased with us in flesh to dwell, ( he became human and could now sympathise with our weakness

Indeed
 Jesus our Emmanuel. means 'God with us'

The Son of God did not stay in the safe immunity of his heaven, remote from human sin and tragedy. He actually entered our world. He emptied himself of his glory and humbled himself to serve. He took our nature, lived our life, endured our temptations, experienced our sorrows, felt our hurts, bore our sins and died our death. He penetrated deeply into our humanness. He never stayed aloof from the people he might have been expected to avoid. He made friends with the dropouts of society. He even touched untouchables. He could not have become more one with us than he did. It was the total identification of love. John Stott

The final verse is one of praise

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!


To hail is to cheer, salute, or greet; welcome. to acclaim or approve enthusiastically

Prince of peace is first mentioned in Isaiah and as one who would bring peace between God and man and grant peace in the hearts who those who put their trust in Christ.

The Sun of Righteousness is mentioned in Malachi and speaks of Jesus being like the ‘sun’ from which all light and life comes.

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

From that Sun

Light and life to all He brings,



As the natural sunlight brings healing to physical wounds and many depressed states so exposure to Jesus the Sun of Righteousness can bring healing and life to the wounded soul.

As the writer declares

Risen with healing in His wings.

Then the hymn speaks of how Jesus didn’t make a fuss of leaving aside his glory by first becoming baby , then a child, then a man and finally an the sin sacrifice for us all

Mild He lays His glory by,

Why ?

Born that man no more may die. – because of his birth we would not have to undergo spiritual or eternal death he would take away the sting of spiritual death because as Hebrews states ‘ he came to destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil"

Born to raise the sons of earth,

I like this ‘born to raise the sons of earth.’ It could refer to the resurrection though should not be limited to it. In experience I have seen people who have come to faith being raised in different ways including spiritually, emotionally, physically, materially and even intellectually. By becoming children of God this would not be uncommon as Jesus declared: ‘I have come that you might have life and life in all its fullness.’

Charles and John Wesley would have also seen this in their ministries as they reached out to the very poor working classes. He makes us better people with the goal of making us like Christ.
The line :
Born to give them second birth speaks of the new birth, the new life that he can give us by his spirit. A clean slate where we become babes in Christ and start to grow spiritually with Christ.

This is a great hymn at Christmas but actually there are a few more verses that never made it into many of the hymn books but are really very good and full of great theological truth which I’ll read now.

Speaking to Christ the writer then prays for all of us that God will bring about his work in our lives

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.

Now display Thy saving power,

Ruined nature now restore;

Now in mystic union join

Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.



Adam’s likeness, Lord, remove,

Stamp Thine image in its place:

Second Adam from above,

Reinstate us in Thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,

Thee, the Life, the inner man:

O, to all Thyself impart,

Formed in each believing heart.


AK

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