Read: Luke 2:13–14  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

The much-loved carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was written by the gifted Charles Wesley in 1739. It is rich in biblical truth and poetic beauty. He begins the song with the word “hark”, which means “listen”, the same way we understand the word “harken”.

We are called to listen to the angels as they sang a song of glory to God and a song of peace on earth. The carol explains how this peace has come to humanity. It comes when God and man are reconciled through the mediating work of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). We are justified not by our own righteousness, which is at best a feeble attempt to bridge the huge gap that exists between God and us, but by the righteousness of Christ (shown in His sinless nature and total obedience to the Father) and His death on the cross on our behalf. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

…God “was reconciling the world to himself in Christ”…

The truth of Christmas is that God “was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19). This is the amazing feat of the grace of God. This is such a glorious truth that all the nations are urged to rise in song to join the triumphant song of the angels, to know deeply what it means to sing, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

The second stanza tells of the mystery of the incarnation. Christ is the “everlasting Lord”—He is God himself, the second Person of the Trinity (John 1:1). His divinity is declared by Scripture (John 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1).

Christ was adored by the highest heaven—He was the great treasure of heaven. Then one day, at the appointed time, “when the set time had fully come” (Galatians 4:4), or as Wesley put it, “late in time”, we behold Him come as the offspring of a virgin’s womb (see Genesis 3:15; Revelation 12:5). The mystery of Christ, fully divine and fully human, is expressed by phrases in the carol: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see” and “hail the incarnate deity” (Stanza 2) . “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The church fathers would subsequently explain why we need a Saviour who is fully God and fully man. No other person could save us the way Jesus did. He is Jesus (the One who saves) as well as Emmanuel (the God who is with us).

In the third stanza, reference is made to the prophecy in Isaiah about the birth of Christ. He is given various titles, including the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He is the One who gives us peace that is beyond whatever this world can offer (John 14:27). This He does through His sacrifice on the cross and by sending His Spirit to us.

… not only our Saviour, but He is also my Saviour.

It is His righteousness that saves us. He comes to us like the rising of the sun, and brings with Him healing—in every way. He brings true light and life because He himself is the Light (John 9:5) and Life (John 11:25; 14:6). He came as a baby, laying aside His divine glory; though God, He made himself nothing to be born as a human baby; He humbled himself to die on the cross to save us (Philippians 2:6-8). He was born that we no more may die the second death (punishment in hell for our sins). He was born that we may be born again (spiritual birth). He changes our eternal destiny so that we can rise as the new sons (and daughters) of earth from condemnation and eternal death.

Jesus is not only our Saviour, but He is also my Saviour. His work has to do with the individual soul too. Each of us has a heart that needs to be conquered by the love of the Son of God. Our hearts must belong to Him and become His “humble home” (Stanza 4). The Holy Spirit lives in us when we place our faith in Christ (John 14:17). Not only is the Spirit residing in us, but the Father and the Son make their home in us too (John 14:23). This is absolutely mind boggling, that the triune God of heaven should choose to make His home in each of us.

He wants to do this because our salvation not only has to do with removing our guilt of sin, but also our spiritual “illness” of sinfulness. Our corrupt nature needs to be replaced by a new nature. We carry both the nature of God, which has been marred within us because of the fall of humankind into sin, and the fallen nature of Adam (Genesis 5:1–3). The old, sinful self has been working in collusion with the devil, who has gained entry into the fallen heart of man. Christ, the woman’s offspring (“the Conquering Seed”) foretold in Genesis 3:15, not only crushes the serpent’s head at the cross, but also in our hearts: “Bruise in us the serpent’s head” (Stanza 4).

sanctification… we are made holy and become Christ-like.

Wesley focuses on the process of sanctification by which we are made holy and become Christ-like. This follows our sanctification and will lead to our glorification in Christ, when we will perfectly reflect the glory of Christ in our inner selves. The old nature is replaced by the new nature, which is the character of Christ as He is “Formed in each believing heart” (Stanza 5). This was the longing of the apostle Paul as he struggled to see Christ formed in believers (Galatians 4:19). This is achieved through the “mystic union” between Christ and us (see Romans 6:5), so that He dwells in our inner man (Ephesians 3:16-17) in order to fill us with “all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). This is profound spiritual theology that shows how we were saved, are being saved, and will be saved to the uttermost.

This wonderful salvation began on Christmas Day, when the Son of God, our Saviour, was born in Bethlehem.

Consider this:

Meditate on the phrases in the hymn and try to apply them in your life. How does Christ bring peace and healing to you? What does it mean to have your heart as God’s home? How does Jesus bruise the serpent’s head in your heart? How is He being formed in your soul?

Excerpted and adapted from Songs of Christmas: The Stories and Significance of 20 Well-Loved Carols by Robert M. Solomon. ©2018 by Robert M. Solomon. Used by permission of Discovery House Publishers. All rights reserved.

Related Resources:

God with Us: The Promise of Christmas. No matter what you face in life, the decisions you make determine the course of your journey. Where can you find clear direction to help you make wise choices? Discover from the stories of Eve and Mary how you can find hope in God and make choices that reflect His will for your life. Find out more here.


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