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 seventy 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.
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.
The first thing the hymn invites us to do is Hark which means to listen, but not only hear with the ears, but to believe what we hear and to respond in faith, to pay proper and reverent attention, and to joyfully prostrate ourselves at the angelic utterance of the glorious gospel message. Yes, listen to the Herald Angels as they proclaim their three-fold message: Glory to the Newborn King, peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled. Indeed, of all the manifold and wondrous works of God, our Lord's incarnation is the most astonishing and gracious of all.
Creating the universe was a feat. Combining the art of a thousand Michelangelos and the science of ten thousand Albert Einsteins God fashioned a universe so dappled with beauty and intricate in function that we will never be able to take it all in. Yet as breath-taking as the creation and preservation of the world are, they are not nearly so glorious as the redemption of the world by the Son of God, Jesus Christ our incarnate Lord and God! "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!" (John 3:16)
Jesus is life, peace and mercy from God incarnate. By the Holy Birth we celebrate this day, God and sinful man are now reconciled, and that means that we don't need to be afraid any longer: afraid of God, afraid of sin, afraid of death, afraid of the present, the past or the future. Neither need we fear God's judgment because the sins that would otherwise condemn 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 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 healing in Christ. What else can make the nations of the earth rise above their never-ending envy, 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 oh, how wrong they are!
What can bring joy to the world and her people? More technology? More bombs dropped? More embargoes against other nations? Or is universal health coverage the missing piece that will finally bring peace on earth and goodwill to men?
What can lift up your heavy head today? A new life, new husband or wife, a new job? Don't count on it, because whatever changes we make, our sinful hearts go with us and will always sabotage our pretty plans. To coin a phrase: bloom where you are planted. 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 form taxes our logic and violates everything our reason tells us. 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!
In one "magic" moment God took on flesh and from that time on God became a man. 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 an ignoble death on the cross. He pays the price of the entire world's sin and imparts eternal life to all in fallen creation who believe and are 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 the Christmas Gospel? There's only one: that we join the triumph in the skies by our faith, our songs, our praise and thanks, and likewise by renouncing worldly passions and living 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! Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras