Christ-Exalting, Gospel-Proclaiming, Holiday Favorites: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Christ-Exalting, Gospel-Proclaiming, Holiday Favorites

Each year, we watch several popular Christmas specials and movies on TV. I enjoy The Santa Claus trilogy, The Grinch, and of course the 24-hour-long marathon session of A Christmas Story, much to the chagrin of some in my family. One of the most endearing, memorable, Christmassy specials is A Charlie Brown Christmas. The soundtrack is iconic in our culture, from the Peanuts piano theme to “Christmas Time is Here”. But among all of the songs on the soundtrack, one song stands above the rest.

Near the end of the show, amid Charlie Brown’s frustration with the way his Christmas is going, Linus decides to tell us what Christmas is all about. He then goes on to quote Luke 2 (in all its KJV-poeticness).

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:7-14)

The kids then close the show by breaking into the most famous song based on this scripture. And in doing so, we hear great, profound theological truths that most everyone can sing along with.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

This classic Christmas carol was originally written by John Wesley, and has changed a little bit over the years to the version that we most commonly know today. This song primarily addresses who Jesus is and why he came to earth to be with us. The Christology explained in these verses should drive us to worship our Lord.

Verse 1
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!”

Jesus is born, and with his verse the angels proclaim the coming of the king. The song describes them as “herald angels”, or angels who are official messengers bringing royal news to the people. They have come to announce the arrival of the King! And the purpose of this King is described in the second line – “God and sinners reconciled!” This King has come to bring mankind back into a right relationship with God. This is cause for all of mankind, all peoples, all nations to rejoice. We are to join in the celebration because this King has come to bring us back to himself.

Paul describes Jesus’ work of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:20-21) God has chosen to reconcile men and women, sinful mankind, back to himself through the Son, King Jesus.

Verse 2
Christ, by highest heav’n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’ incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Jesus is explicitly proclaimed as God, the everlasting Lord in this verse. He was born of a virgin according to Isaiah’s prophecy (Is 7:14), and he is truly God who has taken on flesh. He is the incarnate deity according to John 1. “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.” (John 1:14) He was pleased to do the will of the father, to come to us born as a baby, and live amongst us. He truly is our Emmanuel – God with us.

Verse 3
Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun 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.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Jesus, as God the Son and King of Kings, brings light and life to all mankind. But he did this by laying aside the glory that was rightly due him, and came to us so that we could in fact experience the second birth. We are raised to spiritual life and united to Christ only through this work. When our hearts are regenerated, we turn to him in repentance and faith and, though sinful, we are justified before a holy God. He came to us so that “man no more may die” – a spiritual death in a real place called Hell. We are raised to life with Christ if we indeed turn away from our sin and place our faith in Christ. And it is this exalted Lord who laid aside his glory that Paul speaks of in Philippians 2.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:5-11)

Theologically-Driven Doxology

There are many songs that we will here this year like this. They have deep theological meaning that should drive us to deeper and more meaningful worship of God. It is easy to sing this song because of its familiarity, but it is another thing to dwell on the words you are singing and realize that Jesus Christ truly is Lord over all things. This in turn drives a heart response of humble worship of our God. Glory to the newborn King!


Read Part 1