I love music.  And even though I’m sometimes sick of it by the end of December, I really love Christmas music – especially the old Christmas hymns. The popular music of my life changes so quickly, but Christmas hymns remain the same, a musical root that calls me to deep soil, nourishment for my soul.

One of my all-time favorite Christmas hymns is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  I love it for its swelling music.  I love it for its beautiful lyrics.  Most of all, I love it for its message to the world – and to my own heart.  

Listen!  The messenger angels have an announcement:  “Glory to the newborn king!”

In an age where we are suspicious of authority (is that really exclusive to just this age?), that announcement may make some of us cringe.  So the hymn writer, Charles Wesley, goes on to tell us why this announcement is such glorious, joyful, life-giving news.  And we remind ourselves of it every year, every time we sing this thrilling Christmas hymn.

“Hark! The herald angels sing/’Glory to the newborn King!’/Peace on earth, and mercy mild/God and sinners reconciled.”  How quickly we gloss over such profound and life-changing truth.  The messenger angels make an astounding announcement:  

God and sinners can be reconciled!   

Sinners, mind you!  Not just “humans” (although they are one and the same with sinners). But the holy God and the messy, unholy human race.  We can be reconciled.  United. Brought to peace.  No more strife, or conflict, or rebellion, or cold shoulder between us and Him.  Oh, the joy!

And then – no matter who you are, whether black or white or olive or some beautiful combination of ethnicities – an invitation is issued to you and those you love:  “Joyful, all ye nations rise/Join the triumph of the skies!/With th’ angelic host proclaim:/‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’”

We get to join the heavenly host, humans and angels together proclaiming our deepest joy – God and sinners reconciled!  Christ is born!  Christ is born!

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

With the invitation issued to all peoples of the earth to join with the angels in their glorious worship, we go on to sing – to proclaim! – why this newborn King is able to reconcile God and sinners.

“Christ, by highest heaven adored/ Christ, the everlasting Lord!”  How often I forget that the highest heaven adores Jesus.  Not like we adore a baby or a new pair of shoes, but adoration to the point of worship.  Awe. Wonder at the Alpha and the Omega, whose kingdom will know no end. He alone can reconcile sinners to a holy God.  

“Late in time, behold him come/Offspring of a virgin’s womb.”  After a whole lifetime of hearing the Christmas story, it can become just a standard detail that we stop marveling over.  “Behold, the virgin is pregnant!”  {Insert surprised emoji here!}

And now, for one of my favorite lines – as the music rises, and our souls rejoice!

“Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see!”  

There is a whole world of theology wrapped up in that one short, pithy statement.   The music brings us to our feet in worship.  The words bring to my mind a montage of scenes from the Old Testament:  

Moses, standing on Mount Sinai amidst the thunder and lightning, the smoke and the fire, hidden in the cleft of the mountain and covered by God’s hand, lest he see God and die.

Moses later, having talked with God (without seeing God), his face shining so brightly that he had to wear a veil to hide the reflected glory of this God because the people were afraid of God’s glory.  

The temple, with the presence of God hidden away behind the veil of the Holy of Holies lest the people perish by approaching him.  His holiness emanates like cloud and fire.

The Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – forever and always united in love, in purpose, in essence, in shining and frightening glory.

“Hail the incarnate deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel.”  

This God chooses to veil Himself so that we can see Him.  He chooses to dwell with man as God with us, Emmanuel.  We cannot even begin to wrap our minds around that choice – the love, the humility, the power under wraps, the heavenly perfection slogging through the mud of humanity.

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

And yet – his goal in taking on flesh, we remember, is not just to identify with us lowly creatures, but to reconcile God and sinners.  And so the hymn writer draws our thoughts not just to the beginning of the story, the astounding love that would bring God into the world as a human baby, but also to the end of the story.

“Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace” who reconciles God and sinners!
“Hail the Son of Righteousness” who gives us his righteousness for our filthy rags of “righteousness!”
“Light and life to all he brings/Ris’n with healing in his wings!”  

A montage of scenes flashes again through my mind:  

Jesus healing the man born blind.
Jesus healing the woman who bled.
Jesus healing the lepers, the demon-possessed, the crippled.
Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  

“I am the resurrection and the life!”
“I have come that my joy may be in you, that your joy may be full!”  

Jesus Himself leaving behind the dark grave as He rises to new life!

“Mild, he lays his glory by”
{oh, remember that glory on Mount Sinai!}
“Born that man no more may die”
{“I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly!”}
“Born to raise the sons of earth”
{o death, where is your sting?}
“Born to give them second birth!”
{o death, where is your victory?}

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

 

Becca Hermes earned her Master of Arts from the Atlanta campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, where she continues to work full-time. She is married to Nagib.