Maybe you were like me as a child and thought the angel’s name was Harold. Or perhaps you, too, wondered why there weren’t quotes and a comma around the word “hark”? And maybe you never used the word “hark” unless you were begrudgingly reading Romeo and Juliet. For me, it was a distracting way of beginning this beloved hymn.
I am, however, profoundly grateful to evangelist George Whitefield for changing Charles Wesley’s lyrics when he published a collection of hymns in 1753. Wesley’s original opening line read, “Hark, how all the welkin rings.” (“Welkin” is an old English term for “the vault of heaven.”) I’m thinking the current title is pretty good after all! “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is arguably one of the most theologically powerful Christmas hymns of all times. Let’s remind ourselves of the amazing way Wesley packed the gospel into these lyrics. (I am taking a little liberty with the first phrase to make it more colloquial. Don’t tell Charles.)
Hey! An angel of Almighty God is speaking — “Glory to the newborn King!” (Luke 2:8-14) Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” (Amazing! Romans 5:6-11) Joyful, all ye nations rise. Join the triumph of the skies. With th’angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” (We will join them in praise forever!)
Christ, by highest Heav’n adored — Christ the everlasting Lord. (The “I am”) Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb. (Luke 1:35-37) Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity. (The Word became flesh) Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. (…and dwelt among us. John 1)
Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! (Isaiah 9:6) Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings. (“I am the resurrection and the life”) Mild He lays His glory by. (He humbled Himself. Philippians 2:8) Born that man no more may die. (John 10:10) Born to raise the sons of earth. Born to give them second birth. (John 3:16) Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (He shall reign forever!)
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:11-13)
Someday we will join the hosts of angels, and every living creature, in giving our eternal King the glory He is due. Hark! I can almost hear it now. Have a wonderful Christmas!