The depth of some Christmas hymns all but disappears due to the over-familiarity and use of those hymns. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” is definitely one of those. Hearing it these days often brings to mind the climax of A Charlie Brown Christmas, or images of some dude named Harold.
But the depth of the text of this hymn is immense, and I already know that I plan to hit each stanza during these 25 days.
The hymn was written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church in this country with his brother John. Charles lays claim to some 6000 hymns. I doubt many were as good as this one.
This first stanza opens and closes with the same two lines:
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king!”
Familiar, melodious, triumphant, celebrative.
But it’s another line – almost hidden in the middle, that grabs my attention:
God and sinners reconciled!
The entire first stanza, if not the whole hymn, is an invitation to erupt like seeing your favorite team win a championship, especially if they were the underdog. And this one little line is the reason: God and sinners are reconciled.
Now, if you are one who believes that people are basically good, and that God has no real reason to be mad at us; or if you just kinda think that loving us is God’s job, then this line is a waste of space. But if you get it – if you understand the overall thread of the Bible, then this line definitely is reason to rock!
A good summary of what Wesley was driving at with that line is found in Romans, chapter 5.
6When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.7Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.8But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.9And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.10For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.11So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
Notice a few key thoughts in this passage:
- We were helpless – that is, we were powerless to bring about our own forgiveness and salvation. As such, we stood condemned to eternal death and punishment. Until we get that fact, Christmas never fully sinks in.
- Jesus came to die. Not to become an earthly king. Not to receive gold, frankincense and myrrh on every birthday. He came to die for sinners. For his enemies (don’t miss that, either!) For us.
- Jesus’ arrival and his death saved us from God’s rightful condemnation of us.
- Those of us who receive baby Jesus as Lord and Savior are made right. We are restored. Our holy and complete relationship with God is back in place as if nothing had ever happened (though indeed it had).
To really get this passage, and to get the true meaning of the joy of this hymn, we need to truly understand that this restoration – this being made right with God as his friends – was less likely than you jumping over the moon.
But it happened. God and sinners ARE reconciled.
In the coming of Jesus. In his birth, in his death, in his resurrection.
That’s why we sing Glory to the newborn King!