Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Truth: "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" Part 3

This is the last part of three posts I've published that are meditations on the theological song "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."  If you want to read the previous two parts, you can find them here and here.  Let me sum up what the first two stanzas of the song have taught us: Jesus is the almighty King worshipped by angelic servants who brings peace and mercy as he paves the way for the reconciliation of God and man.  He has come for everyone on the earth as the Messiah, a fulfillment of prophecy.  Even more amazing, he is God, deity incarnated in a virgin's woman, another fulfillment of prophecy.  He has come voluntarily to dwell with us, to be Emmanuel.  And now, the last stanza.

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace, Hail the Son of Righteousness
Piggybacking on the previous stanza, this stanza again emphasizes that Jesus is from heaven.  He comes to earth from heaven because he is God.  He is the Prince of Peace, an allusion to another fulfilled prophecy found in Isaiah 9:6.  The Prince of Peace in Isaiah is also called "Mighty God."  No doubt about it, the Prince of Peace is God.  Thus, he can truly be deemed righteous.  He is the son of righteousness, that is, all that is righteous proceeds from him and is in him.  He is truth and morality and holiness.

Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings
Now we get to the clincher--the why this king, Messiah, Christ Jesus has come.  The first stanza hinted that he would reconcile man and God, but how?  This stanza says that he will bring light and life.  That he is risen is a hint to his death.  This Messiah will die and yet rise again and come with healing for man in his wings.  As for the wings, I can't help but think of Jesus crying out as he came into Jerusalem, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings."  Indeed, he would rise showing that healing could only come to those who gather themselves under his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die
This healing that will come is not for temporary sickness, but for the pervasive sickness that leads all men to death: sin.  In humility, the Messiah left heaven for earth (already described in the second stanza) so that man would no longer die.  If he will no longer die, then this must mean the Messiah will solve man's sin problem.

Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth
Here then is the crux: Through Christ's own death and resurrection, man can himself die and be raised to life.  Man can receive a second birth into life devoid of sin and live eternally.  I am reminded here of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus: "In reply Jesus declared, 'I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.'  'How can a man be born when he is old?' Nicodemus asked. 'Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!' Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.'"  Through rebirth through Christ, man lives again one with the Spirit.  His sin problem and thus death is conquered.  This, then, is the truth of Christmas.  We celebrate the incarnation because it leads to our freedom from sin and death.  The true joy of Christmas rests in our own salvation through the sacrifice of the incarnate God. 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, 
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
John 3:16

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Truth: "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" Part 2

This is the second part of a meditation on the stanzas of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."  If you want to read the first part, you can do that here.  I am looking particularly at the theology found in the song.  I consider it to be the most theological of all the Christmas songs I know.  We saw last time that the first stanza makes the following declarations about Jesus: He is the almighty King worshipped by angelic servants.  He is the one who will bring peace and mercy as he paves the way for the reconciliation of God and man.  He has come for everyone on the earth.  He is the Messiah and his birth fulfills prophecy.  Let's now see what the second stanza proclaims about the Messiah.

Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord
This refers back to stanza one where Jesus is also worshipped by angels.  But why is he worshipped?  The second half of the line explains--He's the everlasting Lord.  The king and Messiah of the first stanza is now declared to be something even greater--the Lord himself.  He's not just a king that lasts for a day; he's the everlasting Lord.  Thus, he is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.  He is God himself.

Late in time behold him come, offspring of the Virgin's womb
Late in time does not mean that Jesus was late or should have shown up earlier.  The phrase means here that a long time elapsed from his promised coming to the time he arrived.  He was promised as early as Genesis 3.  The earth has waited in anticipation for a long time.  When he arrives, this Lord adored by angels is conceived in the womb of a virgin.  This is both a fulfillment of prophecy and a hint the reason for why he was to come.  He had to be born a man to complete the mission ahead of him.  (In Genesis 3:15, we see a promise that an offspring will come of woman that will crush the serpent, so this line also bridges the gap between Genesis and the gospels, that the time has elapsed to the promise's fulfillment when the offspring is formed in a woman's womb).

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity
This line gives me chills.  Jesus' flesh is a covering for the Trinity (yes, this song declares the Trinity!).  We are staring right at the Trinity when we see Jesus for he exists one with his father and the Spirit at all times.  As he is the God, the Trinity, we are called to hail him just like the angels, to hail God incarnated in flesh.

Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel
Jesus is not forced to come.  He has not been pushed or manipulated or tricked.  He is pleased to dwell with man.  He has a reason to come and he loves man enough to come, to forsake the worship of angels above and live as a human being.  He will know our temptations and trials and pains.  He will walk among us so that he can love us and show us the better way.  He will draw us close with physical arms.  He will be with us, the meaning of Emmanuel.  In fact, through the gospel he teaches us he will never leave us or forsake us.

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, 
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
John 1:14

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Truth: "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"

A few years ago, my husband and I went to a Christmas concert at a local symphony center.  For the last part of the performance, the symphony and its choir asked the audience to stand and sing, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" along with them.  I've always liked this particular Christmas song because it is sung at the end of my favorite movie, It's a Wonderful Life.  However, I have to admit that as is often the case, I had sung this song many times, but not paid close attention to its words.  It was about Jesus' birth and angels heralding it.  Got it.  But that night, as I followed the words to the song, I found myself floored.  I was struck by the fact that "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" is the most theological Christmas song I've ever heard, and here were hundreds of people singing it, singing truth out to God, even if they didn't personally believe it.

For this Christmas I'd like to offer three meditations on my now favorite Christmas song, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."  I'm going to approach it one stanza per post because I don't want to rush it.  It's just too beautiful.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"
In this song, Jesus' entrance into the world is announced with gusto.  He doesn't come silently, just a babe--no, he comes with angelic servants proclaiming that he is a king.  The angels reveal to the shepherds the truth that the king has arrived.  This is a baby born with powerful authority.

"Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled."
What has this mighty king come to do?  To fight?  To throw off Rome?  No, to bring peace, not a sword.  He comes with mercy.  His plan is far grander than physical battle, more far reaching than the shepherds could dream.  The king is not coming to concern himself merely with the restoration of Jewish power.  He is coming to bring God to sinners.  Sinners?  Yes, to mankind whose problem is not Rome, but its darkest heart of sin.  This king will wipe clean the darkness of man's heart and fill it with the light of God.

Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies
Even more far reaching!  The king has not come only to Israel, but to all nations, to all men.  Every person on earth is to have the joy of reconciliation available to his heart.  Those who are reconciled worship along with angelic servants the one that has drawn them near by banishing their darkness.

With the angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Oh the depth of this one line!  Those who are reconciled, what do they proclaim?  "Christ is born in Bethlehem."  Such a simple line, but so deeply profound.  The king is Christ, that is, Messiah.  This is confirmed because he is born in Bethlehem, a fulfillment of prophecy.  This then, is not just any king--he is the foretold king from the Old Testament, the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, the Son of Man.  He has come, the one the Jews have waited for, the one who will change all history by his arrival.  You cannot deny his truth, because fulfilled prophecy testifies to his identity.

Wow.  The theology in this song awes me.  In this one stanza we have these declarations about Jesus: He is the almighty King worshipped by angelic servants.  He is the one who will bring peace and mercy as he paves the way for the reconciliation of God and man.  He has come for everyone on the earth.  He is the Messiah and his birth fulfills prophecy. 

"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel,
praising God and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven,
the shepherds said to one another,
'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,
which the Lord has told us about.'"
Luke 2:13-15