Christmas is, without a doubt, my favorite time of the year. Maybe you’re one of those legalists who refuses to put up any lights or listen to any music until you’re firmly entrenched in December – I’ll pray for you.
But me? I’ve had Christmas rolling for a solid two weeks already. And I love the music. It’s not just because it’s Christmas-y; it’s because some of the greatest theological teaching in the church, aside from Scripture, is found in these songs. But we’ve sung them so often and are so familiar with them, these beautiful lyrics can simply pass us by without making us pause.
So between now and Christmas, I’m going to devote one blog post per week to take a look at some of the rich theology embedded in these familiar songs of the season. First up on the list is one of my favorites – Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
The original lyrics were written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, and was called “Hymn for Christmas-Day.” It was included in John Wesley’s collection called Hymns and Sacred Poems that was published in 1739. The great evangelist George Whitefield adapted the lyrics in 1754, changing the opening line to “Hark! the Herald Angels sing” from the original, “Hark how all the Welkin rings.”
There is so much beauty in this song, but my favorite part comes in verse 2:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
The lyric reminds me of biblical truths like Colossians 2:9: “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” And the words of Jesus Himself in John 14:7: “If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”
There are two fundamental questions for humanity to answer which all the rest of existence is based on: Who is God? What is He like? And the answer to both is found in the person of Jesus Christ. He is God Incarnate, the fullness of God veiled in flesh. But as the lyric points out, Jesus was pleased to dwell with men. It was not a mission He undertook with trepidation or doubt; He did not come to earth as a baby begrudgingly.
He was pleased to lay aside His glory for the glory of God and the souls of men and women. He is our Emmanuel – God with us. And in being with us, He also shows us that He is God for us. For in Jesus, we not only find a God who knows our every pain, temptation, and weakness, but One who has overcome them all in Himself. We do not follow a King that is far off, one who reigns from a distant palace at a great distance from the real life struggles of His subjects. We follow a King who is, in all senses, with us.
We are left, then, to echo the refrain that has become so familiar to us during the Christmas season:
“Glory to the newborn King!”