If I had a dollar for every time I said, “Listen”, you would be rich because I’d be giving it away like candy! In 1739, Charles Wesley published his famous Christmas hallmark hymn, just one of his 6,000!
First words, like first impressions, are significant, and this is exceedingly true for Wesley’s hymn. His opening word heralded the world to hush, ordering us to be still and sit in silence for a message so glorious it required our rapt attention.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
(Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!)
“Hark” is old school for “Listen up and pay attention!”. What’s interesting to me is that the shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem needed no such command. When the sky became a glorious blaze of brilliant light and the choir of multitudes sang from the heavenlies, there was no need to command them to “Hark!”. No distraction waged war against their attention as the skies filled with angelic warriors. Oh, what a sound that must have been!
“Hark” wasn’t meant to describe a clarion call to sleepy shepherds,
it was intended to arrest the attention of scurrying souls.
Those of us, all of us, who buy presents in a hurried frenzy, work like crazy to keep up our social media filtered life, sit in church on Sundays, and try hard to keep all the plates spinning, especially at Christmas. Each busy task calling ever louder, demanding our full attention with emergency-like persistence.
Here in the mayhem,
Wesley summons, “Hark”.
Do you need to slow-breathe, sit still, close your eyes, and silence all the messages running reckless in your head? I hope you’re raising your hand along with me as I confess my over-indulgence with hurry.
“Lord, I wonder how much more effective I would be if I slowed down.”
I wrote those words in my journal the other day as I meditated on the third Psalm.
If you read Psalm 3 (and I hope you take the 20 seconds right now to do just that!) you won’t find a verse about slowing down, but you will see the Lord as Shield, Protector, Just Vindicator of the oppressed, Peaceful Sustainer of the exhausted, Victor, and Savior.
If you read Psalm 3, you’ll meet a desperate man at the end of his rope with all odds stacked against him. He cries aloud, perhaps as much to be heard as to be louder than the roar of the pain surrounding him.
Oh, he’s King David, the most famous king in all of Israel’s history of rulers, the one called the man after God’s own heart. (Acts 13:22)
What desperate problem could he be facing?
Just his own son hunting him down, chasing him around the country to kill him.
In reality, the circumstances don’t matter as much as his cry.
He was summoning the Lord to hearken to his painful voice.
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul says “the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains” to be “set free from the bondage of decay”. (Romans 8:21-22)
David cried aloud.
Creation has groaned since sin first entered the world and separated us from God.
We plead for relief from the pain of brokenness.
All creation begs God to Hark!
One gloriously, common night in a nondescript cave hidden in backwards Bethlehem, the wail of a newborn decreed that God had indeed heard.
Now, it was time for humanity to heed His “Hark!”.
Here was the Rescue from sin and death.
Here was a Shield and Defender.
Here was the roar of Justice.
But the din of our lives grows louder until, in our own desperation, grasping at the threads of our fraying rope, we decide to drop all the spinning plates.
We decide to sit, be still, and listen.
My favorite verses of Wesley’s Christmas classic are rarely sung anymore, but they speak of a miracle birthed right within Charles less than a year before his pen wrote the lyrics that would outlive him. Charles Wesley wrote so passionately of the newborn king, for just a few months prior, he had surrendered his life to Christ. This wasn’t some academic exercise that won him high-ranking merit for his creativity in poetic structure; his words spoke of the God who lived within him and had made him entirely new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The world needed to hear Charles’ message of Hope, because the message was for all of us.
“Hark! …God and Sinners Reconciled!”
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.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart
I love unpacking the theology of old hymns, but this time, I’m leaving it to my friend, and fellow GT Theologian, Debbie Collin. Come back tomorrow and study with us; you won’t regret it!
Until then, practice hearkening to the greatest news the world has ever heard!
Open your Bible, be still, and listen!
Worship XII, Day 14
Can you imagine what the shepherds saw and heard?
What was it like for them to receive such a message?
Come dig a little deeper with me into this passage through the perspective of an often forgotten verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”.
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