It’s officially post-Thanksgiving, which means that whether yours is a family that listens to Christmas music year-round, turns it on after Halloween, or strictly adheres to the “No Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving OR ELSE” rule, it’s likely that our houses are all, at this moment, filled with familiar Christmas tunes.
But how many times have you hummed along (or belted out in the privacy of your home) to these tunes but not really paid attention to the words? Songs like the ones we sing together at Christmas are so commonly heard everywhere. They inhabit not just our church sanctuaries on Sunday mornings; they are in the stores, cars, radios, televisions, and winter concerts. These songs are inescapable, even for the Scroogiest among us.
Which, on one hand, is wonderful. I have lived in places without Christmas music playing everywhere in December, and I missed it. On the other hand, hearing it so frequently and for nearly my entire life means that I have now become unintentionally indifferent to what is actually being sung. To be honest, for a song like “Jingle Bells,” I certainly don’t mind becoming indifferent to the lyrics. But there are others filled with rich theological truths, and when I thoughtlessly sing along, I miss out on a lot. Worse than that, I end up simply paying lip service to God, just saying some good words without considering their meaning, and my heart is far from worship.
One such song is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Three short verses express deep truths about the birth of Christ, and I fear that over the years, I have brushed over them in my eagerness to simply sing along. In fact, I’m not sure I ever paid attention to the lyrics at all until fairly recently. Over the next few weeks, I want to invite us all to slow down and consider the words of the songs we are singing. As a practice for doing this for all songs, let’s look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” together.
One disclaimer before we do: my goal in encouraging us to think more deeply about the lyrics is not so that we can simply know the songs better; my goal is that we would worship our God more deeply. As we dwell on the words in these verses, I pray our hearts would all be led to wonder and worship.
We’ll take a brief look at one verse each week for three weeks, and we’ll start today with the first verse. For the sake of seeing the meaning in each verse more clearly, I am going to write them out in paragraph form instead of in the usual poetic stanzas. I encourage you to read it out loud to yourself, and try to do so without singing it!
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 angelic hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
There is so much we could learn in this one verse alone, and so much more to say that I won’t say here. But what is the essential message of verse one? It is an instruction, a command. Simply put: proclaim Christ.
Sound familiar? It should. This Christ we proclaim also commanded us to proclaim Him to the world in His parting instruction to His followers: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” The lyrics in this verse are but an echo of what Christ has already commanded us to do. Peter reminds us of this calling, too, years later in 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.” Announcing the good news of the coming of the Messiah and declaring his praises is not just the responsibility of the angels: it is our honor and joy, as chosen children of the King, as priests, as a holy nation, as His special possession, to join them.
The newborn King has come, the One who saves. He came to a people who rebelled against Him and His kingdom, yet He brought us peace, mercy, and reconciliation through His blood shed on the cross. Without His birth, there is no good news.
The angels knew this. In Luke 2, an angel proclaimed the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” to the shepherds that night near Bethlehem, and immediately after the pronouncement of Jesus’ birth, a multitude of the heavenly host appeared with the angel and praised God. And what, then, did the shepherds do? They went to find this child who had been born, and then they returned to their fields “glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.” Do you see what happened that one night in Bethlehem? Praise grew from one angel’s joyful declaration, to a multitude of angels praising, to even the shepherds adding their voices to the praise. When we meet this Messiah, our response is to open our mouths, declare his praises, and proclaim that He has come to save us.
So, rise, everyone everywhere, and joyfully join the angels in proclaiming Christ. This wonderful gift is not a nice thought meant to be kept to ourselves; it is good news of great joy meant to be declared to the nations, near and far. Join the triumph of the skies and proclaim the name of Jesus Christ. All glory to Him.
Read Luke 2:8-20. Imagine that you are hearing the angel’s pronouncement for the first time. What does this tell you about the Savior?
Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. What does it mean that we have been given the “ministry of reconciliation”? What does it mean that we are “Christ’s ambassadors”?
Each week, I’ll link a different version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” There are many versions, old and new, so I’ll post three of my favorites in hopes that they lead you to not just appreciate the song more, but to worship our Lord more.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing by Celtic Worship