Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Most of us have a favourite Christmas carol; mine is Hark! The herald angels sing and I am sure many of you out there share that opinion. This beautiful song is full of truth concerning the birth of Christ, but do we really know what we’re singing? Allow me to explain the meaning behind some of Charles Wesley’s poetic gems.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

The Carol Speaks About Reconciliation

“Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Our greatest need is for reconciliation. As I write, wars rage across this planet; tribe against tribe and nation against nation. However, the peace of which this carol speaks goes far deeper than simply a cessation of conflict between warring factions. It reveals a peace that you and I, natural enemies of God (Romans 5:10), can enjoy with our Creator. This peace is enduring, everlasting even, and life-changing.

Approximately thirty years after the events described by the carol, the Lord Jesus Christ was able to say to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus was able to promise this because, just hours later, He would go to die upon a cross. As a result, He has “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20b). Those angels lighting up the sky at Bethlehem that night knew that God’s mission of reconciliation would be accomplished in the new-born child – and how they rejoiced!

The Carol Speaks About Revelation

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!
Hail the incarnate deity!”

Through the baby born in such humble circumstances, God has given to the human race the fullest possible revelation of Himself. Jesus is not merely a great teacher, a wonderful example or an amazing miracle worker – He is God in the flesh, the incarnate deity. Wesley eloquently writes of how God’s Son, the “offspring of a virgin’s womb”, is to be known as: “Jesus, our Immanuel.” Not long before that glorious night, another angel had given this command to Mary’s husband, Joseph: “You shall call His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:21b). Matthew goes on to tell his readers: “Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying, ‘Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:22-23).

God came down to us in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He fully shared our humanity and knows all about the kinds of trials and tribulations we experience today. How amazing that He entered our world of pain in order to make an entirely different quality of life available to those who receive Him (see John 10:10).

The Carol Speaks About Righteousness

“Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!”

Sun of Righteousness is a title given to the Messiah (Christ) by the prophet Malachi. Four hundred or so years before the birth of Christ, Malachi predicted that God’s sent One would: “arise with healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2). Wesley applies this to Christ’s resurrection (“Risen with healing in His wings”). Of course, the language of both Malachi and Charles Wesley is poetic and is meant to be understood in that way. The Lord Jesus is not some phoenix from the ashes, but He is the “first-born from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). Christ’s death made reconciliation possible through the forgiveness of sins (see above), but in the resurrection His true righteousness is confirmed by God. Furthermore, all those who identify with the Lord Jesus in both His death and resurrection are declared righteous before God: “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and He was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT).

This Christmas, enjoy singing the carol, but make sure you receive the gift of the “second birth” it speaks of in its closing line. Without this, the peace and joy which permeate this beloved hymn will be nothing more than empty words.