Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! Glory to the Newborn King
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” (Luke 2:13-14)
This scene from Luke 2 inspired the classic Christmas carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Written by Charles Wesley and later adapted by George Whitfield, this hymn resounds with gospel truth from beginning to end. Each line speaks about the person of Christ and what we have in Him. There’s great truth and joy in this song, but like many songs, we often don’t take time to slow down and think through the lyrics. And with this song, even the title can throw us off a bit. Not many people say “hark” or “herald” anymore. We may get so focused on the angels that we forget the whole reason they’re singing. So let’s unpack this familiar song so we don’t miss the depth of what the angels sing – and what we sing.
Don’t be Distracted by the Angels
Don’t let the fact that angels are singing (in the song and in the Luke passage above) be a distraction to you. While it would be amazing and unforgettable to see that happen, the scene of angels singing can often cause us to lose focus on what they are singing about – God. God’s Word has a lot to say about angels, but here’s what angels are often doing in scripture: 1) worshipping God and 2) directing humanity to worship God. The Luke passage above shows them worshipping God. Notice what the apostle John writes in Revelation:
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:8-9, emphasis added)
These passages show us that angels point us to God – to worship Him and give Him glory. So don’t stand in awe over the angels singing – stand in awe of the God they are singing about.
Listen to their Message
To “hark” means to listen attentively or pay close attention. This song is calling us to listen to something. What are we listening to? We are listening to the angels. The “herald” angels. A “herald” is an announcer, a messenger, or a proclaimer of news. The word often carries the sense of an official representative of the one in authority, especially during wartime. Put together, these two words are telling us to “listen to what the official messenger of the One in authority has to say.”
And they have a lot to say! Or sing, rather. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” provides numerous reasons to worship God. We can see these reasons by looking at what the song says about Jesus and what He gives us.
Focus on Jesus
Concerning Jesus, this song, perhaps more than any other Christmas hymn, weaves the deity and humanity of Christ seamlessly throughout its lyrics. The song speaks of Him as a newborn, as the offspring of a virgin’s womb, as being in flesh and incarnate. It also speaks of Jesus as King, as Christ, as the everlasting Lord, as part of the Godhead, as deity, as the Prince of Peace, as the Son of Righteousness. The glory and wonder of Christ - of Him being both God and Man - is summarized in perhaps the simplest and most straightforward line in the song – “Jesus, our Emmanuel.” Jesus is God with us. That’s what the angels are singing about – the infinite God who became an infant who remained God . . . to be with us.
The song not only speaks about who Jesus is but also what He gives us. Because of Jesus and from Jesus, we receive peace on earth. We receive mercy, and we are reconciled with God. All the nations receive joy. He brings light, life, and healing to us. He gives us the second birth, and promises resurrection to us – to raise the sons of earth. What amazing blessings! But the best blessing He gives us is Himself . . . “pleased as man with man to dwell.” He is with us, and no blessing can compare with that.
Join in the Song
This song also tells us how to respond to Jesus. Remember, this song is a call to listen to what the angels are singing about. But it’s also a call to join in their song. We “join the triumph of the skies.” We join in their song and what they proclaim. We rise with all the nations with joyful singing. We adore Him, as they do in heaven.
On the surface, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a song about angels singing. But it’s about listening to them and joining in their song. It’s about Christ – who He is and what He gives. As we respond to Him with singing, we give glory to our newborn King!