Theology of Worship: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

A perfect hymn to sing on Christmas Day! Hark! The herald angels sing, for our Saviour has been born!

Verse 1

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 angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Refrain: Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

This verse—and likely the hymn itself—is inspired by Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Glory be to our newborn King, for He brings peace to sinners whom He reconciled to the Father! “For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-16). Jesus Christ is the embodiment of peace, and we find true peace in Him alone, which is from God, “who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). What an amazing gift, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10). Therefore, all nations rise and rejoice in the birth of Christ our Saviour with joyful triumph.

Verse 2

Christ, by highest heaven adored.
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as Man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Immanuel!
Refrain: Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

We know by now from the gospels that Jesus was born of a virgin. And from John’s gospel we know Christ is God born incarnate (John 1:1, 14). God is pleased with Jesus as Man who dwelled with Man. As John 1:14 confesses, He is the Word of God who came down to earth to dwell with man—Immanuel, God with us. At His baptism, God proclaimed, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

Verse 3

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light of life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He leaves His throne on high,
Born that man no more way die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.
Refrain: Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

These are just some of the titles ascribed to Christ. “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). God has proclaimed the following about our Prince of Peace, “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). The Sun of Righteousness left His heavenly throne to be born as a man so that we will not die the second death (eternal death). He came to raise us from death through our Baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:1-5). This Baptism is our second birth, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In context, Jesus was talking about Baptism. An interesting thing about the Greek is that it says γεννηθῇ ἂνωθεν (genethay anothen), which literally translated means, “to be born from above.” In our Baptism, then, we literally become born from the kingdom of God—we are made children of God. “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:5).

Verse 4

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart!
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Refrain: Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

In the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuelwe saw “Desire of nations” is the KJV translation of Haggai 2:7, which the ESV translation says “treasures of all nations.” The verse says, “And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts.” This is also a Messianic prophecy, where God promises He will fill His rebuilt temple (Christ after the resurrection) with His glory just as He filled the Solomonic temple. Thus, the hymn ends perfectly just as it began: Glory to Christ the newborn King, the Prince of Peace who has reconciled all sinners who believe in Him to God the Father.

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