Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!
December 24, 2023 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Christ Lutheran Church
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
December 24, 2023
The Christ Mass
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!” (TLH #94 v.1)
Two hundred and seventy-nine years ago God gave a gift to his church that keeps on giving, our beloved hymn Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
The hymn’s author, Charles Wesley, wrote over 6,500 hymns and was himself a gift because music and theology are inseparable, and what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
If you ever wanted objective proof that the faith of Christ is the one, true faith, all other imposters, it would be the music that our Lord has inspired over the ages, but we dare not even begin to name them for time would fail us to talk of Handel or Bach; Luther or Gerhardt who by their music conquered the devil’s kingdom, and stopped the mouths of the roaring lions.
We first encounter music in Genesis 4:21 where a man named Jubal is credited with inventing the world’s earliest musical instruments, a flute and a small harp-like instrument known as the lyre. Music played a vital role in Hebrew religion, even as it has in the New Testament church from the beginning.
Indeed we would not be over-stating the case to say that there could be no gospel without music – because the gospel is heaven come to earth, and heaven is filled with music; and God’s praises are always sung there, and never just spoken.
Nor did God give us music only to tickle our emotions, or aid our memories. But music is the track on which the train of Divine Revelation travels. Whether it is a Lutheran church where the organ leads the way; or an EO in which no instrumentation is allowed but is supplied by the voices of the liturgical choir alone; or a store front church where the black preacher starts his sermon in spoken word, but before the people can get comfortable in their pews it turns it into a glorious chant.
The first thing our hymn invites us to do is Hark. Hark means to listen! To hear and believe the angel’s message, and to respond to in in glorious praise. To pay proper and reverent attention, and to joyfully prostrate ourselves at the seraphic utterance of the glorious gospel message.
Yes, listen to the Herald Angels as they proclaim their three-fold message:
Hark, the herald angels sing!
Glory to the new born king,
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinner reconciled.
Indeed of all the inexpressible works of God, the incarnation of his Son is the most ineffable and love-drenched of all. It is the reason we genuflect or bow at the words, “And was made man.”
Creating the universe was a feat. Combining the art of a thousand Michelangelo’s and the science of ten thousand Elon Musks, God fashioned a universe so speckled with beauty, and intricate in function, that humanity will never be able to take it all in.
But as breath-taking as the Creation and Preservation of the world are, they are not nearly so brilliant as the redemption of the world by the Son of God, Jesus Christ our incarnate Lord and God! "For God loved the world in this manner, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life!"
Jesus is Life, Peace and Mercy from God incarnate. By the Holy Birth we celebrate this eve, God and sinful man are now reconciled, and that means that we need not be afraid any longer. Afraid of God, afraid of sin, afraid of death, afraid of the present, the past or the future or eternity itself. Nor need we fear God’s judgment because the sins that would otherwise disqualify us were redressed on the cross, and now, by unwavering faith in Jesus, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Next the hymn incites all nations to Rise with Joy because Jesus is the Savior of all men without exception. If you are human Jesus is your Savior and your God. There is no other. Though men, nations and even many “churches” (synagogues of Satan) have banished redemption's story the Holy Spirit continues to use this Carol to call men wherever it is heard; to rise up from the darkness of death and find Life, Light and Calm in Christ.
What else can make the nations of the earth rise above their insatiable desire for more, more, more? Their envy, dissatisfaction, their wars and assaults on one another? Can the United Nations do it? Can the gambits of global economic and political brinksmanship do it? Our idolatrous hearts answer “Yes We Can,” but O how wrong they are!
And what can bring Joy to the World and her people? More technology? More bombs dropped. More economic sanctions? Or do we think that artificial intelligence, will finally bring peace on earth and good will to men?
And what can lift up your heavy head today? A new start, new spouse, a new job, the winning lottery ticket? Don’t count on it, because whatever changes we make, our sinful hearts go with us and will always sabotage our pretty plans. Better to do the work that God has given you to do while it is day, before the night comes when no man can work.
Learn today from this Sacred Song that only Jesus can bring Joy to the world. He is Immanuel, “God with us” at all times in all places. He is the Prince of Peace who breaks the oppressor’s rod (Isaiah 9:4). He is the Sun of Righteousness who was born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us Second Birth. So with the angelic hosts, let us too proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!
The hymn also invites us to Join the triumph being proclaimed in the skies. This notion that God can be born of a human mother, and exist in human flesh, while still retaining his full divinity violates everything reason tells us. But the idea of a virgin giving birth to God the Son, by way of God the Father, through God the Holy Spirit, is why Christmas is such a wonder.
The instant Mary conceived the fabric of the universe wonderfully and irrevocably changed and became New! Now God came to reclaim his fallen creation.
In one sparkling moment God took on flesh. Not the flesh or nature of trees, or animals, but our flesh. In this miracle known as Christmas God comes to US. God preaches, heals, and works miracles in OUR midst. God proclaims His kingdom. He pardons our transgressions. He dies a brutal death on the cross wherein he pays the price of the wrongs of humanity, and imparts eternal life to all who will believe and be baptized.
God rises bodily from death and continues to be with us by Word and Sacrament, and by acts of mercy until the end of the age when “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.”
What can be our response to this Christmas Gospel? There’s only one: that we join the triumph in the skies as we are doing at this very moment, as we do every Lord’s Day, and indeed every day as we live and love like Jesus did. As we “renounce worldly passions, and live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age as we wait for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
Glory to the Newborn King!