Today’s Bible reading

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” — Luke 2:8-14

More thoughts for meditation

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
Words: Charles Wesley (1707-1788), George Whitfield (1714-1770)
Music: from a chorus by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847), adapted by William Hayman Cummings

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 th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the virgin’s womb.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail! the heav’n born Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen 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.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

The text to this popular carol is based on Luke 2:8-14, the portion of the familiar Christmas story that includes the angels and shepherds. It first appeared in the Wesley hymnal, Hymns and Sacred Poems, in 1739. It was originally composed as ten verses with the title, “Hymn for Christmas Day.”  The song has undergone many changes. Whitfield’s most obvious change is in the first line.  In Wesley’s original it was, “Hark! how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings.” “Welkin” is an obsolete word that means “the vault of heaven.”  Whitfield gave us singing angels (praising) with a focus on Jesus (the newborn King), rather than on God (the King of kings) with his revision to “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King!”  

There were many other changes along the way as hymns tend to evolve over the years, but this change to a focus on Jesus was a theological point that Whitfield wanted to underline.  Christmas is about the coming of a new order with a new King given by God.  The whole emphasis centers on the great work that Jesus’ accomplishes for believers by mildly laying aside his glory to come and dwell with us and then within us, freeing us from death, drawing us into new life, and stamping his image within us.  

Suggestions for Action

When I was a new Christian I began to pay more careful attention to Christmas carols.  When I read beyond the first verse of this one (and Joy to the World), I was shocked to find the whole gospel message there.  How had I missed it?  As you listen to the voices on the link below singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, listen for the Spirit of God to whisper through them the fullness of His love for you and how his care covers everything about you:

  •  Are you lonely? – He wants to live with in and in you.
  • Are you angry over the world’s cruelty? – He seeks to remedy that with love and redemption that goes to the very heart of our need for newness.
  • Are you hopeless? – He wants to give you a new start.
  • Are you confused and doubting God? – He wants to reveal the fullness of God to you.  

Listen. Hark.

Don’t miss the last verse. Read it again above.  Nobody sings all the verses.  Listen to the whole story.