I love Christmas carols. I’m fond of secular Christmas music, too—Ray Stevens’ “Santa Claus is Watching You” is a personal favorite—but there is something special about the ancient (to me anyway) carols. It may be uncommon now, but when I was a child, we children learned some of our first real theology from those old and solemn words.
The first Noel the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay…
It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold…
Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth; ye who sang Creation’s story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth…
Oh, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…
Silent night, holy night…round yon virgin mother and Child…
It saddens me how little we get to sing them even at this time of the year. There’s only a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas; and the well-deserved backlash against retailers skipping Thanksgiving has caused it to be unfashionable to sing Christmas music outside that brief period. Then, I for one have to work during half the available church services—I have a biweekly rotating schedule—and some of the remaining services are taken up with presentations and programs. There aren’t many opportunities to give our voices to these wonderful words, at least not corporately. It may be unavoidable, but it’s also unfortunate.
One song is far and away my favorite. Now, I have said that I’m a writer on the side, so you may expect that I’d be attracted to the longer, more verbally and musically complex carols, like “O Holy Night”. I do love that one; it’s excellent, especially the last stanza, where we learn how Christ’s love for us means that we should love those around us. But it isn’t my favorite. No, that honor goes to another timeless classic, one we still teach to our children even in this jaded age: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.
It has so much goodness packed into a few words! In the first lines, we have the angels singing praises; we have a newborn King of all creation; we have the Lord’s desire for peace on Earth; we have, right in the center of the verse, the reconciliation of God and sinners. As they one day will do, the nations rise to praise the Lord, joining the angels to proclaim the victory of God over sin and the world. That is all of history, for all the world, past and future, encapsulated in ten lines!
The part that gives me goose bumps every time I hear it or sing it, though, is the majestic final verse. Here, let me show you:
Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun 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!”
I’ve written before about the futility of life without God. I took it from a philosophical standpoint, or perhaps I should say a worldview standpoint; that is, I have pointed out how a universe without God in it is one where nothing matters, because everything is random, meaningless, and ultimately inconsequential. If you believe that there is no God, no Creator, then—assuming you follow your own beliefs out all the way to their end—there are two inevitable outcomes, and you’ll have them both, in order. One is hedonism, the idea that you live only for your own pleasure. It will be a selfish pleasure, too, because why should you care about anyone else? Nothing matters, and nothing is important. Only you are important to you. The second outcome is suicide, because your life is totally, totally worthless.
You have to understand this before I go on. Disbelief in God MUST end in futility of life. And when life is futile, it’s only a short step to suicide. It happens all the time.
Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace.
But, I always felt that there is one more reaction that makes sense. Fear. Fear of death. Why? Not because death is hard or painful—even though it might be—but because death is the end. The end of me. The end of everything, as far as I am concerned. And unless I’m a Caesar or a Buddha or a Hitler, in just a few generations I will probably be forgotten, so I don’t even have the conditional immortality of memory. Of course I would fear that fate! I don’t want to go out like a candle! I don’t want my flame, feeble as it may be, to be extinguished.
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
But there is One Whose flame cannot be extinguished.
Light and Life to all He brings…
The One Whose flame is eternal, shares that light with anyone who will receive it. He burns with righteousness and peace and—most of all—forgiveness. He is holy, but He doesn’t hold it back from us.
Risen with healing in His wings!
It’s no wonder we fail to believe in God, much less in Jesus. We live in a broken world, and we are broken, sick people. The best among us are failures. It’s a life that, if not full of despair, is prone to it. Worse, it’s a life that is broken because we made it that way. But…there is hope. There is healing for the sick and the broken. It comes from One Who not only was born, but died—and now has risen!
Mild, He lays His glory by, born that Man no more may die—
Do you get it? Do you realize the awesome sacrifice He made? Long before He died, He stepped out of the glory of eternity and took on the weakness of humanity! The infinite became finite. The glorious became veiled. The rich became poor. The powerful became—by choice—weak and humble. God. Became. MAN. And, WHY?
Born to raise the Sons of Earth! Born to give them second birth!
I have always loved that simple phrase. “Born to raise the sons of Earth.” We, we poor and needy, broken-down, humbled, shattered, ruined, dead, sons and daughters of Earth, needed—more than anything—the Son of Heaven. So, He came.
He was born. God became Man.
He lived. He felt our pain, our need. He knew our weaknesses. The only thing He did not partake of, was our sin—but He suffered our temptations, and He defeated them.
He died. Without committing our sins, He still took them upon Himself, and He died, carrying them away into the grave.
And because He did, He can raise us.
So, why? Why despair? Why risk it—the hedonism, the despair, the fear, the very thought that this may be all there is? One Who has died—One Who has been there and come back—has told us that this isn’t all there is. And He offers us so much more than this. He offers us life, and peace, and righteousness, and glory, and meaning, and value, and eternity! That is the reason He offered Himself, first, long ago—the real reason we celebrate Christmas.
Don’t just celebrate. Believe. Trust.
Then, with the angels, you can do your own singing.
Hark! The herald angels sing: Glory to the newborn King!