Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Recommended version: Amy Grant, A Christmas Album 1983
“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. 'Don’t be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.'
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.'
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, 'Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them – Luke 2:8-20 NLT
In the 400 years between the Old Testament prophets and the coming of Jesus as told in the New Testament, havoc reigned among God's people. tragedies and desecrations punctuate this history. Those who remained faithful to God despaired, giving up hope, but continued to wait expectantly, trusting the stories they had heard about the God of their ancestors. The one true God who would rescue them from oppression and be their home and refuge forever. Countless desperate prayers and cries for deliverance went up in those 400 years. How can I be sure?
Because the Old Testament contains another period of 430 years during which God was silent while His people suffered and waited. After Joseph’s successful partnership with the Egyptian Pharoah, helping his people avoid a famine, the new Pharoah soon forgot the alliance and enslaved the Israelite people. For 430 years, God seemed absent while His people cried out to Him under a great burden of suffering, in a foreign land, among foreign gods.
This similar period of silence was broken by a sudden, ecstatic burst of angel song. Not only was God answering the desperate longings of every Israelite heart by coming to be among them, God had wrapped Himself in humanity as a baby. The long- awaited Messiah was here!
Hark: to listen attentively
Herald: an official crier or messenger
These angels had shown themselves in the skies to proclaim some great news!
God’s way of getting the world’s attention and proclaiming the birth of His Son was to fill the sky with the crowds of heaven in glorious singing and exultant praise. But God did not reveal this proclamation to the powerful, nor to the masses. God showed His glory and sent this astounding message to shepherds, who were the poor vagabonds of society. Not the brightest or most influential, rather the humblest. This is one of the first glimpses we get of God’s upside-down Kingdom. The last were first to know.
The angels, who exist in the very presence of God, CELEBRATED that day! Their jubilation echoed God's joy - He would finally be united with His people again, forgiving every barrier that stood between them.
To understand better why this was such a glorious proclamation, and why it is still such good news today, let’s look back on the story of God and God’s beloved creation: us.
Before the world was created, God the Father lived in absolute perfect harmony, unity, and love within the Trinity, with the Spirit and the Son. This is a mystery we may never fully grasp this side of eternity but imagine your family unit for a moment. You are one family, but individual people. Now imagine that nothing exists between you except the purest love, intimacy, and abundance. It’s hard for many of us to imagine in this broken world, but this is what God has enjoyed for all eternity. Timothy Keller calls it a dance:
“Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. . . A kind of dance. . . The pattern of this three-personal life is the great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality.”
Out of this abundance of self-giving love and glory, God created beauty and order out of nothingness. God created earth, sea, birds, flowers, trees, and at the culmination - humans. Everything was made complex, unique, incredibly intricate, and living in harmony and intimacy with each other and with God. A one-ness held us close to God, even as the Trinity is one in each other.
Then humans, with the free will given to them, rebelled against God and severed that unity, barring themselves from God. Humanity could no longer be in God’s presence or experience the intimate relationship and blessings they had once enjoyed. The Old Testament consists of story after story of God pursuing, not giving up on His people, despite their constant rebellion. God’s character had not changed. God was still intimately loving, delighting, and seeing.
For thousands of years, God provided Judges, kings, prophets, and various intercessors to try to reach His people, but always they rebelled, and always a gaping valley stood between God and humanity. Life apart from God reverts back to chaos, confusion, and darkness. Love is self-seeking, joy lacks depth, and suffering is unbearable.
Advent, the arrival of Jesus, is such good news because Jesus, one in the Trinity, shed His immediate one-ness with the Trinity, left behind every glory and perfection to become a human. Though He didn’t come as an adult to rescue the people from their current circumstances as they may have expected, Jesus came as a baby, born to a humble family, to experience everything firsthand His creation experiences, in order to BE with us, to be unified with us again. Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection finally made it possible for humanity to once again be in the glorious presence of God! Not only that, but God’s Holy Spirit now dwells within us who receive the gift of His love, grace, and presence.
. This is worth singing from the heavens! This gives new meaning to the proclamation, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”
Today, simply let this good news carry new weight. Allow God to breathe these old words into your heart with new life. Let the knowledge and experience of God with us pour out in praise as you sit, kneel, or stand in adoration of our King Jesus.