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Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

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History of the Hymn

It was written by Charles Wesley, who was an English Methodist leader and hymn writer.
Wesley wrote over 6,000 hymns, more than any other male writer.
His goal in writing hymns was to teach the poor and illiterate sound doctrine.
His brother, John Wesley, a famous theologian and founder of Methodism, said that Charles’ hymnal was the best theological book in existence.
Wesley, inspired by the sounds of London church bells while walking to church on Christmas Day, wrote the “Hark” poem about a year after his conversion to be read on Christmas Day.
The poem first appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739 with the opening line of “Hark, how the welkin (heaven) rings.”
In 1753, George Whitefield, a student and eventual colleague of Wesley’s, adapted the poem into the song we now know today.
In the 1850s the words of hymn were paired with music and it was printed in a collection of hymns.
For the last 200 years Christians have sang “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, boldly declaring the birth of Jesus and the deep significance of Him coming into the world.
I think Charles Wesley was struck by the significance of the Christmas story when he heard those church bells
Struck with just how important the birth of Jesus was.
We can grasp just how significant it was, and still is, when we read of Zechariah and Elizabeth in , the parents of John the Baptist.

The World-altering significance of the birth of Christ

Luke 1:5–7 ESV
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
lk 1 5-
Zechariah was a priest in one of 24 division of priest.
Priests would serve in the temple throughout the year.
Both Zech and Elizabeth were “righteous before God”, meaning they had a deep love for and obedience to God; they loved Him and followed His ways.
But they were without children because Elizabeth was barren, unable to conceive.
They were now older too so their longing for children had grown hopeless.
Having children, especially sons, was deeply important in this time, so Zech and Elizabeth had probably spent many years praying and weeping over their inability to conceive.
Even in their obedience and deep faith in God, there was brokenness in their lives, and a reason for mourning.
Luke 1:8–17 ESV
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
lk 1 8-
Luke tells us Zech was chosen by lot to go into the holy place inside the temple to clean and restore the incense.
About 18,000 priests served the temple so this was an opportunity that would most likely only come once for Zechariah.
While he is was in the holy place, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said:
Luke 1:13–17 ESV
13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
lk 1 13
“Your prayer has been heard” likely is referring to the prayer Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for years, for the birth of a son.
But it could also refer to the prayer Jewish families would had often prayed, for the Messiah to come.
The Angel tells Zech that the birth of his son will bring them “joy and gladness”.
He will “turn many…to the Lord their God” as he makes ready for the Lord “a people prepared.”
God is breaking restoration to a broken world through the broken story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
This is at the heart of the message of Christmas and it is captured in the powerful message of our song today.

The Message of the Song

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Hark! The herald Angel sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies With angelic host proclaim “Christ is born in Bethlehem”
With angelic host proclaim “Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies
With angelic host proclaim “Christ is born in Bethlehem”
With angelic host proclaim “Christ is born in Bethlehem”

The birth of Christ unlocks the possibility of peace and reconciliation to our broken world.

Jesus brings peace and reconciliation to our broken world.

“Hark” is an old English word meaning “listen!”
The angels are announcing good news, the greatest news ever heard.
“Glory to the NEWBORN King!”
What has happened in Bethlehem is GAME CHANGING.
LISTEN!!
The birth of this King brings the possibility for peace.
He is not talking about the absence of war alone.
Peace = shalom or wholeness, the absences of Chaos.
Colossians 1:19–20 ESV
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Think back to the Angel Gaberial speaking to Zechariah.
col 1
“Your prayer had been answered!” What we deeply long for (and maybe we don’t even realize we long for) has been unlocked, inaugurated, initiated...
The one who created everything has been born into the world and will begin to make all things new, right, whole---Shalom---PEACE
The birth of this King brings the possibility for reconciliation.
Solomon says in we all have eternity in our hearts.
He means we all know we are broken in some way.
We try all kinds of methods; religion, self-help, exercise, work, success, money, relationship, stuff… all to grasp at that eternity
But in the birth of Christ the possibility of what we REALLY long for is unlocked.
In the baby in the manger is the only chance we have at reconciliation.
It is the reason the Angel’s were singing
It is the reason we sing this powerful song
It is the reason we have hope!

2) A proclamation of the incarnation

Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb
Christ, the everlasting Lord Late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb
Late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel
Deity Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel

The birth of Christ miraculously unites God and man.

Here the hymn strongly proclaims the incarnation of Jesus.
This is a doctrine that is so essential, yet so often misunderstood in the church.
It is a wonderful mystery that is difficult to grasp, but extraordinary nonetheless.
Jesus
John 1:14 ESV
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Philippians 2:5–8 ESV
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
phil 2 5-
God in Heaven, the second person in the trinity, who was fully and completely God, took on human flesh and lived among us.
This is profound for several reasons:
God became man-
As the Philippians passage said Jesus was in the “form of God” HE WAS, in heaven, all powerful, sufficient, Holy, PERFECT...
But “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”- Jesus left heaven, and His purpose was humble and sacrificial.
God took on flesh-
Jesus took on the aches and pains of flesh
He experiences the physical and emotional joys and pains we all experience.
He lived among us
He was hurt, rejected, lied to, and abused
He felt the pain of loss and the joy of friendship
It all had a purpose
John Piper Quote:
John Piper Quote: The incarnation is the preparation of nerve endings for the nails that would be hammered into his hands and feet. The incarnation is the preparation of a brow for thorns to press through.
The incarnation is the preparation of a brow for thorns to press through. He needed to have a broad back so that there was a place for the whip. He needed to have feet so that there was a place for spikes. He needed to have a side so that there was a place for the sword to go in. He needed cheeks, fleshy cheeks, so that Judas would have a place to kiss and there would be a place for the spit to run down that the soldiers put on him. He needed a brain and a spinal column with no vinegar and no gall so that the exquisiteness of the pain could be fully felt.
He needed to have a broad back so that there was a place for the whip. He needed to have feet so that there was a place for spikes. He needed to have a side so that there was a place for the sword to go in. He needed cheeks, fleshy cheeks, so that Judas would have a place to kiss and there would be a place for the spit to run down that the soldiers put on him. He needed a brain and a spinal column so that the horror of the pain could be fully felt.
The incarnation had an incredible purpose.
He needed to have a broad back so that there was a place for the whip. He needed to have feet so that there was a place for spikes. He needed to have a side so that there was a place for the sword to go in. He needed cheeks, fleshy cheeks, so that Judas would have a place to kiss and there would be a place for the spit to run down that the soldiers put on him. He needed a brain and a spinal column with no vinegar and no gall so that the exquisiteness of the pain could be fully felt.
Hail the Heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of righteousness
Hail the Son of righteousness Light and life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth
Light and life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings
Light and life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die
Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth

The birth of Christ creates the opportunity for eternal life.

Wesley captures the glory of the birth of Jesus as he connects it with the purpose of Jesus, to die for the sins of man.
“Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.”
Christmas really has no meaning if Easter never happened.
It is amazing and glorious that God became man, lived a perfect life, and can related with humanity in the flesh, but if He didn’t die as we know He did and He didn’t take on the punishment for the sins of man, then Christmas loses its power.
Jesus came to die, so “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Piece” “Glory to the newborn King”
If Jesus hadn’t died then we would be left in our sin, hopeless and lost.
Christmas opens up the opportunity for forgiveness, for redemption, for reconciliation, and for eternal life with Christ.
The birth of Jesus doesn’t change the fact that we will all live for eternity, it changes how we will live out our eternity.
In Christ we have the opportunity for an eternity with Christ. Full, whole, and at peace, as we are reconciled to our creator.
Outside of Christ we are left with eternal punishment, separated from a relationship with God, forever paying the just penalty for our sin.
Christmas is amazing news

Zechariah’s Praise

After the birth of John the Baptist his father, Zechariah, is asked what the name of the child will be.
He has been unable to talk since the angel met him in the temple.
Zechariah writes “John” on a piece of paper and instantly his mouth is opened and he begins to speak.
And then Zechariah spoke the words that had probably been on his mind for the months he couldn’t talk.
Luke 1:68–69 NIV
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David
john 1:68-69
Luke 1:76–79 NIV
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
John 1:68-69
john 1:68-69
Luke 1:68-69
Zechariah knows the significance of Christmas, long before it would ever be called Christmas.
God has come to fix the brokenness of our world, to reconcile His people to Himself, to bring salvation and eternal life to those who would trust in the name of Jesus.

What does Christmas mean to you?

and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
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