Christmas is the season of listening. We gather around the story of Luke 2, as it’s read aloud. We hang sleigh bells on our Christmas trees and on our door knobs and enjoy the nostalgia for days when holiday traffic was all “over the river and through the woods.” Carols ring out in the most unlikely places and carolers freeze their fingers and noses to spread the joy of music to their neighbors. Brass quartets suddenly play to packed halls, and Salvation Army bell ringers lighten our hearts with a reminder to share.
Even those who totally miss the point of Christmas listen ardently to a genre of music unique to the season and fine tune their ears to the glad tidings of dramatic price reductions and the great joy of “no interest ’til next year!”
But then, there’s the carol that, on the down beat, demands a listening ear:
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is deeply theological and yet joyfully singable, which is no surprise, coming as it does from a collaboration between theologian Charles Wesley and composer Felix Mendelssohn. (According to Wikipedia, George Whitefield even had a hand in it!)
The message of the carol offers a theological basis for a unique Christmas listening, particularly in reference to the carol itself, for how ironic is it for us to sing all four verses of a song beginning with “Hark!” and then to zone out on the words as they come effortlessly to mind?
When the familiarity of the words stands like a giant barrier between your heart and the truth, it’s time to slow down for a deeper pondering of Christmas. After all, this is no small event. Because of the newborn King, a giant rift in the universe has been healed.
Have You Noticed?
Wesley refers to Jesus using 11 different names in the four verses of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Each one is theologically dense and rich in promise:
- Newborn King,
- Everlasting Lord,
- Offspring of the Virgin’s Womb,
- Incarnate Deity,
- The Godhead Veiled in Flesh,
- Prince of Peace,
- Sun of Righteousness,
- Desire of Nations, and
- Second Adam.
Any one of these names has enough embedded truth to warm a cold December heart.
We love to sing about “peace on earth and mercy mild” at Christmas time, and the angel’s message urges us to pay attention to the source of true peace and reconciliation. We are invited to “rise” and to “join the triumph of the skies” that teemed with worship on that dark hillside so long ago. The carol borrows words from Hebrews 1 to remind us that we are in “the last days” ushered in by Jesus’ arrival “late in time.”
The incarnation is a durable truth that yields richness even on a rainy Thursday in August, but at Christmas time, we’re invited to dwell in its enormity, and I’m thankful that when God revealed Himself to humanity, He did not say, “Here I am! Find a way to come to Me!” Instead, he “lay His glory by” and “raise[d] the sons of earth.” He said, “I’ll come to you, and I will raise you. I will take you with Me”
The season of listening is also a season for new beginnings, not because of ritual New Year’s resolutions that follow on its heels, but because of “the woman’s conquering seed.” The safe delivery of a warm and swaddled newborn triggered a chain reaction of spiritual warfare. It began in the slaughter of infants with Herod’s bloody and paranoid sword, which was parried by an angelic warning and a flight to Egypt. Later, a test of wits in the wilderness was countered by Words of Truth that exalted Living Bread. Then, at “an opportune time,” a wooden cross and a grisly death ushered in the crushing power of resurrection to “bruise in us the serpent’s head.”
Listening for Christmas truth sheds glory everywhere. When my son’s jazz band plays Feliz Navidad, I pray for our post-Babel world. As I tap my foot to its non-traditional rhythms on the floor of a drafty New England church, I remember that the Yin of my cold and snowy Christmas has a Yang of 90-degrees-and-Christmas-at-the-beach for those who live south of the equator. The effects of the angel’s message are world-wide; the invitation is to “all nations.”
It is my hope that you are among the listeners this Christmas, that your ears are tuned to the whisper of truth amidst the noise of holiday hoopla, and that Jesus is making His “humble home” in your heart. Because of His coming, you can know God personally.
Blessings to you as you rejoice in the “light and life” He brings.
Thank you to my friend Abby from Little Birdie Blessings for the uniquely crafted image, complete with musical angels.
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