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Luke 2:8–20 (ESV)
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.
18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Hark the Herald Angels sing is written by Charles Wesley, one of the many hundreds of carols that he wrote, is one of the best hymns ever written.
It's reckoned by many hymnologists to be among the three or four best hymns ever written.
It was certainly one of the most popular hymns in a >Protestant hymnals.
In the middle part of the twentieth century.
A survey was done of some 60 or 65 different Protestant denominational hymnals, and this particular hymn occurred in almost every single one of them.
It was known in a variety of traditions, and it is rich in terms of its content.
When Charles Wesley originally wrote this hymn it came in ten stanzas.
The first four phrases are descriptions to us of the messengers and the message;
The second four phrases in that first stanza are Wesley's exhortations to us as to how we ought to respond to the messengers and the message.
The Messengers and the Message
Hark, as the herald angels sing
Listen to these divine messengers, these angels that God has sent as heralds.
Listen to what they are saying.
He is, of course, drawing this from Luke, chapter two, verse thirteen, which tells us that after that angel had told the shepherds what was going on in Bethlehem, that that angel was joined by a multitude of the heavenly host who were praising God; and so, he is drawing this line from Luke 2:13.
But he's asking you to listen carefully to the messengers and to the message that they are bringing.
And then in the second phrase, he tells you what The message is:
“Glory to the newborn King.”
‘Listen: those divine messengers, those herald angels, are announcing the birth of a king, who is the King.
And of course he's basing this on Luke 2:14.
This is the message that that host of angels sang before the shepherds.
Luke 2:14 (ESV)
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
The world religious and not will struggle with a new born king who is already a king.
Herod will know that this is someone who should be dead.
He will be hated and despised and even though he would escape Herod’s attempt to kill him he will glorify the father who sent him by willingly laying down his life.
“Peace on earth, and mercy mild.”
He's elaborating on this message that was brought by the angels to the shepherds, and he's telling us that This King's heralds, this King's messengers, are not bringing a message of war, but a message of peace.
They’re not announcing a message of condemnation and judgment, but a message of mercy.
This whole world is cradled in the arms of a merciful God.
“God and sinners reconciled.”
The kind of peace and mercy he has in mind is “God and sinners reconciled.”
That is, that this peace and mercy about which the previous phrase speaks, this peace and mercy consists in The reconciliation of God and sinners accomplished through the birth of this King.
This song will last through all of eternity.
The first four phrases have described for you the messengers and their message;
The next four phrases in stanza one will exhort us to respond to that message.
Notice what Wesley says to us next:
“Joyful, all ye nations, rise….”
Our response to this kind of a message is to stand up in joyous awe and praise of God.
In the Scriptures, when someone comes into the presence of God, they rise–and very often they take off their shoes, in humble adoration, in awe of the presence of the Almighty God.
Well, Wesley calls on all the nations to stand up!
This verse doesn’t refer only to Christ’s first coming.
It alludes to His Second Coming, as well.
It calls Christ “King” and tells “all ye nations” to praise Him.
Christ’s Kingdom on earth was begun with His birth, but it will be fulfilled with His Second Coming.
And not every nation praised Jesus as King when he was born in a manger.
That will happen when He comes again.
And, join in the joyous awe of the God who has sent this message.
“Join the triumph of the skies”
We are to join…all the nations are to join in this triumph of Christ that is being announced in the Palestinian night sky.
Respond to this in faith, in trust, in belief, and join the triumph that is being announced by these angels in the skies.
Christmas is the season to rejoice - he has triumphed over sin and death and every little thing in this world serves the purposes of this king born a baby
“With the angelic host proclaim…”
With your heart and with your voice you are to join the angelic company, and you are to declare what they are declaring.
And what are they declaring?
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
This is the first time he uses the word “Christ,” which is simply the English version of the Greek name for the Old Testament Messiah.
When you see “Christ,” that is the English version for the Greek name for the Old Testament Messiah, and so what he is saying is this: that this host is proclaiming that the Messiah has been born for our salvation in the City of David (Bethlehem), just where God had prophesied it more than 600 years beforehand through the prophet Micah.
A moment to reflect:
What are the angels doing?
These angels are busying themselves with the praise of God.
The very thought of the incarnation of the Son of God has set these angels singing.
They cannot help but praise God.
Well, let me ask you a question: What are you busying yourself with this season?
Now, there are a lot of us here who are concerned that we are too busy, that we're too busy getting ready for this, or getting ready to give something, or getting ready to get something, or getting ready to entertain someone; or we're too preoccupied with somebody that we're not going to entertain, or that we are going to entertain; or with some problem in our family; and we're crushed down by the rapidness and the squeeze of the season, and we're wondering whether our priorities are right.
And maybe this is the third or fourth, or tenth, or fifteenth Christmas that we've wondered that.
Well, what were the angels busying themselves with?
They were busying themselves with the praise of God.
So, what should you be busying yourself with this season?
The praise of God.
There's nothing more important than the praise of God, and if that isn't your priority this season, I suggest you adopt an angelic priority: the praise of God.
So there's the first stanza, chock full of truth.
The Refrain
when set to Mendelssohn's beautiful tune.
And the refrain is the same phrase as the first two phrases of the first stanza, but now they function a little bit differently.
When We sang them the first time, we are singing Wesley's description to us of the message and the messengers.
The second time we sing them (and, indeed, each time we sing them from now on in the refrain), we are singing them back to God in response to what Wesley has revealed about Christ, about the message, and about the messengers.
And so now The refrain serves to express our own praise to God for the glorious gift of the Messiah.
When we sing “Glory to the newborn King!”
We are confessing that the focus of our hearts and lives ought to be on giving God glory.
Well, there's the first stanza.
The message of redemption is all about God's glory.
Now, what were they doing?
Well, they were giving us a message, and that message was
“Glory to God in the highest”; and that reminds us of a second thing:
This message of redemption is all about God's glory.
Think of it: God's redemption of His people is all about God's glory.
You know, we can look at this gospel story of Christ's coming in the world, and we can still be man-centered about it.
We can think that it's all about us, but The angels are telling us that God's redemption of us is all about His glory; and the reason is because everything is about His glory!Those of us who've grown up on The Shorter Catechism were taught to believe that the chief reason that we are here is to glorify and enjoy God forever.
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