Carols of Christmas – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” pt.2

Tonight is our annual study group Christmas party. There is no lesson tonight. We will gather together this evening for fun and fellowship only. Please bring your favorite hors d’oeuvres or dessert to share (there is no dinner). Also please bring a wrapped $10-ish gift for the gift exchange. Finally, please bring a friend with you. Everyone is invited even if you are not a regular on Tuesday nights. The festivities will start around 6 pm.

Although we are not having a lesson this week, I hope that you have continued reading through Alan Vermilye’s book The Carols of Christmas. This week in the book is Charles Wesley’s great Christmas hymn Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.


Although Charles Wesley wrote his Hymn for Christmas Day to be sung with a majestic and sober tune, William Cummings decision to use Felix Mendelssohn’s more uptempo and martial tune fits the first line better. The hymn opens with the command to “Hark!” (Day 23). It is a commandment of abruptness, suddenness, and unexpectedness. Throughout Scripture, angels generally appear quite suddenly with the instruction to listen. This is the situation confronting the shepherds in Luke 2:11-14. The shepherds are watching their sheep at night, just like every other night. Then abruptly, suddenly, and unexpectedly an army of angels appears praising, singing, and hymning to God. The instruction given to us in the carol is to Hark! (or Listen!) to what the angels are singing. They are singing in celebration of the birth of the Messiah, God’s Anointed, and the descendant of David. And like the shepherds, the carol instructs us to listen – not to do, not to speak, not to plan – but to simply listen to the Good News of the birth of the Savior, and to simply listen to the angelic praises being sung.


The first sentence of the first verse ends with the statement that, in the newborn King, “God and sinners are reconciled.” Reconciliation means “to repair,” “to make good again” or “to bring back into harmony.” (Days 24). Paul writes about the breadth of this reconciliation. Paul tells us that “Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Cor. 5:18, See also, Rom. 5:10. This ministry of reconciliation allows us to be reconciled with everyone else (in Paul’s specific case, Jews and Gentiles) and in reconciling with one another so all of humanity becomes reconciled with God. Eph. 2:16. But the Biblical message of reconciliation is not simply between us and God and us and ourselves, but a reconciliation of all things. Col. 1:20. As we read during Advent, at the coming of the newborn King, “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat.” Isa. 11:6-9. All of creation shares in this reconciliation. [And in a shameless plug for our study next year, I have attached the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren’s column this week on what this reconciliation looks like for the Church today.]

Joyful all ye nations rise:

As the first verse opens by tellings us to Listen! and telling us the ministry of this newborn King, so it continues by extending to us an invitation to join in the proclamation of this message and participation within this ministry. Vermilye writes that the difference between happiness and joy is intentionality and purposefulness. (Day 25). We choose to be joyful. In choosing to be joyful, we are invited to “Join the triumph of the skies.” In this second verse, the invitation is given to us to experience the joy of the shepherds and share in the angel’s proclamation of the birth of the Savior. It is this verse in which we find a reflection of the final question in our Baptismal Covenant. We are asked: “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” and we are asked, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” 1979 BCP 305. In other words, will you intentionally proclaim the message of the angels and will you intentionally practice the Good News of reconciliation? In the carol, however, these invitations are not extended so much in the interrogative but in the imperative. The invitation is simply to “Come!, Join!, Go! and Proclaim!”

Veiled in Flesh:

The second verse is about the Incarnation. Despite Ricky Bobby’s prayer, Christmas is not about an eight-pound, six-ounce newborn infant Jesus. Rather, Christmas is about the ineffable Creator of the cosmos taking human form. We celebrate (as we sing in the carol) “the Incarnate Deity.” Christmas is about the glory and the power of God taking upon himself the form and nature of a human being and becoming one of us. Phil 2:7. It is only in the Incarnation that the angelically proclaimed reconciliation can occur. This proclamation of the Incarnation is the very foundation of our faith. This is why John begins his spiritually oriented gospel not with a baby in Bethlehem but with a meditation on the Word and the Word made Flesh. John 1:1-18. As Vermilye writes: “John looks deeper into the manger and see the Creator of the world, who has existed from all eternity, stepping into the world as Jesus Christ and becoming the visible expression of the invisible God.” (Day 26).

Light and Life:

As the first verse proclaims the birth, the second verse proclaims the Incarnation, so the third proclaims the eschatology of Christmas – “Light and Life to All he brings.” (Day 27, 28). John tells us that “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.” John 1:4-5. Later in his gospel, John places the stories of Jesus being the Light and the Life back-to-back. In John 10:22-42, the gospel writer tells us of Jesus going to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Dedication, which we now call Hanukkah, and how he fulfills this Celebration of Light. In the ensuing story of the Raising of Lazarus, Jesus demonstrates that he also is the bringer of life. John 11:1-44. And of course, it is at the end of John’s Revelation, that we see the fullness of the Incarnation, of light and life, and a final reconciliation of all things. Rev. 21-22.

The Christmas party begins around 6 pm. Please bring an appetizer/dessert and a $10 gift. Everyone is invited!

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th’angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

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