So, the herald was probably scarier than this one and a lot less cute!
Many of us will take some time today to go to church and sing our hearts out in joy and hope, sorrow and longing, as we celebrate again that Christ has come and will come again. Here’s an excerpt of a longer article I wrote about one of my favorites I will sing tonight:
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 th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Though the first line of “Hark the Herald” (as it so frequently is shortened) isn’t the most fascinating from a theological standpoint, it’s worth mentioning the punctuation and the meaning of the line. “Hark!” is a call for us to listen. Why should we listen? Because the “herald angels sing!” Heralds are messengers, and in Luke 2, where this story begins, the heralds are no English newsboys shouting ‘read all about it,’ but terrifying angels appearing to the most unlikely of recipients – shepherds, that society’s equivalent of a check-out lady at Wal-mart.
The angel heralds proclaim odd news – a baby King has been born. Peace on earth I understand, but “mercy mild”? God’s mercy mild? Intense, passionate, astounding, stunning, but mild? Did Charles Wesley, the great hymnwriter, resort to the word for its alliterative value? I went to the dictionary to discover an obsolete dialectial definition of the word mild to get this one. In Wesley’s day, that word meant “kind or gracious.” Now that makes more sense – we are talking about God’s ‘hesed’ and ‘hen,’ the two key Old Testament words describing God’s covenantal love and gracious favor. This understanding also comes in handy in the otherwise puzzling sentence several verses later, “Mild he lays his glory by.” “Graciously, he set aside his glory to become flesh.” Indeed, God’s mild mercy draws him to mildly lay his glory by and become flesh in order that God and sinners may be reconciled!
- 20th December 2009
- Filed under: advent
continued from yesterday, Hark the Herald, Part II
I could write a small book on this hymn alone (hey, a good idea for a gift book for next Christmas?!), but I’ll do one more and then send you to ponder. Let’s skip down to a stanza that the radio station versions often don’t reach:
Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
“Desire of nations” is a reference to Haggai 2:6-7, where the Lord says the “desire of all nations will come and He will fill the earth with glory.” (The entire hymn is replete with Scriptural references; check out a great Bible study athttp://www.joyfulheart.com/christmas/hark-herald-angels-sing.htm. Indeed, the verse is a powerful call to the Lord to come, to make ‘his home in us.’ That sounds very sweet, but when we consider the lines which follow, we may think twice. The next lines reach all the way back to the beginning of redemption, Genesis 3, naming this glorious baby King as the “woman’s conqu’ring Seed” and calling God to “bruise in us” the “Serpent’s head.” These words are a bold cry to destroy our sin nature, to transform our hearts broken and ruined by sin. Of course I want Christ to dwell in me; I’m not so sure about the bruising part, which the uprooting of my idolatrous ways will surely cause.
The call for saving power is not limited to us individually; the words go on to ask for God’s restoration to extend to the entire ruined cosmos. The cry is for the intersection of heaven and earth, for a ‘mystic union’ which Christ accomplished in his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.
Though I’ve passed over many of the riches in this discussion, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” tells a powerful story through each of its five stunning verses (I didn’t even know about the final one! If I’ve piqued your curiosity, click on the link above for all of the words!). As you sing of Christmas in the coming days, listen. Listen to the words and pray that they truly change your heart and the hearts of all who hear.
Please join the discussion. What is your favorite Christmas hymn, and what words really stand out to you?