Hark! the herald angels sing is the second carol we’re going to look at in the run up to Christmas. The words were written by Charles Wesley who wrote a huge number of hymns and, with his brother John, was a founder of the Methodist movement. His hymns are usually full of content and there’s enough in the first verse of this carol to fill this post!
There is a surprising amount about angels in the Christmas story and Wesley focuses our attention on the angels who appear to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-15. There we start with one angel announcing the birth of Jesus to them and end with “the heavenly host” all praising God for what he is doing in the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:13-14).
In the carol, we realize that the focus falls first on who Jesus is. Wesley makes no bones about it. He is “the newborn King” or the “Christ” who “is born in Bethlehem.” The word “Christ” (which is the same word in Greek as “Messiah” in Hebrew) means “the anointed one.” There was a lot of expectation about the “Christ” from the Old Testament. It’s kingly language (kings were anointed), but here the idea is of a king coming to rescue and restore God’s people.
These words are from the angel who speaks to the shepherds:
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: 11 Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 NET)
As we saw from the last post, this special king was expected to be born in Bethlehem because of a prophecy (Micah 5:2).
To a nation under the thumb of the occupying Romans this would have been an incredibly exciting bit of news. But as we progress through the story of Jesus, we find he is not interested in overthrowing the Romans, but overthrowing all evil and rescuing his people from sin (see e.g. John 18:36, Colossians 1:13-15). That’s something that is exciting for anyone. Imagine the hope of a world without evil and imagine the hope of being able to go there without ruining it because all your issues with sin have been dealt with! That’s what the angel is announcing.
Peace with God
And the leads to the next bit of the good news about what Jesus will achieve. This “newborn King” will bring “peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
This picks up the words of the heavenly host:
Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14 NET)
The king who comes to rescue his people from sin and evil does it by dying on a cross. This is astonishing, but necessary. Astonishing because no-one expected God’s Son to come and rescue people who are rebelling against God by dying for them (Jesus’ follower Paul makes this point in Romans 5:6-8)! Necessary, because a price needed to be paid for the sins we committed, a punishment needed to be taken (Romans 3:23-26). That price was paid at the cross, so that if we trust in Jesus as our rescuing king who died for our sin, then when we stand before God we can hear the judgement “righteous” or “justified” instead of “guilty.”
And Paul can write:
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1 NET)
Peace is for people “with whom [God] is pleased” according to the angels. Without Jesus, that would be nobody, but with Jesus it can be anybody! Anybody who has trusted in him.
As with his kingdom, Jesus offers something much deeper than the end of war, or peace in our time. He offers eternal peace and relationship with the God of universe. Have you got that kind of peace?
Joy to the World
Wesley draws us all into the praise in the carol: “Joyful, all ye nations rise.” That’s because this can be good news for everyone and anyone. It’s interesting that in the Christmas story we get poor shepherds and wise men who aren’t even Jewish. It reminds us that God’s plan was always to bring all kinds of people from all kinds of nations to be part of his family.
One of the Old Testament pictures of the Messiah is found in the Servant of the Lord in the prophet Isaiah. He writes:
“I, the LORD, officially commission you; I take hold of your hand. I protect you and make you a covenant mediator for people, and a light to the nations, (Isaiah 42:6 NET)
Jesus was always intended as “a light to the nations.” So what’s stopping you? Jesus came as the rescuing king for the whole world who brings peace with God for eternity. He can be your Christ if you put your trust in him.