Luke  2_ 8-14      Have a Harking Christmas

Rev. David Holwick   ZO                       The Carols of Christmas, #2

First Baptist Church                         "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing"

Ledgewood, New Jersey

December 21, 2008

Luke 2:8-14


  I. Christmas realities.

      A. Our Christmas pageant is tonight.

          1) Millions of kids will wear bathrobes and wings tonight

                across our land.

          2) How accurate are these pageants?

      B. Many myths and traditions have grown up around the holiday.

          1) Bethlehem itself bears little resemblance to the village

                of Jesus' birth.

              a) His manger has an ornate church built around it.

              b) The traditional spot where Jesus was laid is marked

                    with a silver star.

              c) When I toured it, the place reminded me of a wine cellar.

          2) Our Israeli guide then took us out into the rural area near


              a) Goats and sheep milled around.

              b) A few stone houses were lit from the inside against

                    the dusk.

              c) THAT seemed like a real Christmas setting to me.

      C. We cannot duplicate the first Christmas.

          1) It was more than a Palestinian setting.

          2) It was a supernatural event.

              a) Shepherds, an infant, - and lots of angels.

              b) Luke's setting has inspired some of our greatest

                    Christmas carols.

              c) One of the best-loved, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,"

                    reveals the true meaning of Christmas.

II. Charles Wesley's history.

      A. Brother of John Wesley, co-founder of Methodism.

          1) Charles was the baby of the family - quite a position, when

                you realize he had 17 older siblings.

          2) Charles had a great musical talent, writing over 6,000 hymns.

              a) Our green hymnal contains 16 of them.

          3) This hymn is one of his best known, and was written in 1739.

              a) It is said that he wrote it about a year after his


              b) It was inspired by the joyous chiming of the bells in

                    London as he walked to church.

      B. Changes through the years.

          1) Evangelist George Whitefield worked with Charles Wesley.

              a) The original opening line by Charles went:

                 "Hark, how all the welkin rings,

                 'Glory to the King of Kings;'"

                  1> Welkin is an old English word for "the vault of


                  2> The glory is given to the King of Kings, which

                        would be God the Father.

                  3> This is the same emphasis that the angels give in

                        Luke's account.

              b) Whitefield changed it to the words we know today:

                 "Hark, the herald angels sing,

                  Glory to the newborn king."

                  1> Whitefield has the angels singing, which the Bible

                        doesn't explicitly say.

                  2> And he shifts the focus to Jesus instead of the


                  3> He made the changes without consulting Wesley,

                        which rather irritated him.

                      A> He never sang Whitefield's version.

                      B> Most people, though, think it is more sing-able.

      C. The tune has also changed.

          1) Charles just wrote the words.

              a) He thought we should use the same tune as his Easter

                    hymn, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today."

          2) The tune we know and love was written by Felix Mendelssohn.

              a) Mendelssohn came from a distinguished Jewish family.

                  1> His father converted to Christianity.

              b) Originally, Mendelssohn wrote the tune to commemorate

                    Gutenberg's invention of the printing press!

          3) It wasn't until 1855 that an Englishman named William

                Cummings combined Mendelssohn's tune with Wesley's words.

              a) Most think it was worth the 100-year wait.

III. It is a carol worth paying attention to.

      A. As the carol itself would say, you need to "hark."

          1) It's a rather archaic word.

          2) You may be familiar with another piece of literature:

             ""Hark, what light through yonder window breaks?"

             Who said this?

             Nope, not Shakespeare.  He wrote:

                "But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

                 It is the east, and Juliet is the sun."

          3) But you get the idea - it is an old-fashioned expression.

      B. Hark means to listen attentively.  "Shut up and pay attention!"

IV. The Jesus of "Hark".

      A. The biggest emphasis is praise.

          1) Glory, joy, triumph, proclaiming - lots of emotion.

          2) The birth of Jesus is worth celebrating.

              a) Not for celebration's sake in and of itself, but

                    celebrating Jesus.

      B. The Incarnation is a prime focus.

          1) Incarnation means literally "in-bodied".

              a) God takes human form.

              b) It's rather remarkable when you think about it.

          2) The second stanza (in our version) zeroes in.

              a) Wesley uses flowery language -

                    "veiled in flesh the Godhead see";

                    "pleased with us in flesh to dwell".

              b) Jesus is our Emmanuel - God with us.

          3) Wesley portrays Jesus the way the highest passages in the

                New Testament do.

              a) Jesus is far more than a great man or awesome teacher,

                    he is God in the flesh.

              b) Wesley even gets some of the subtle details right.

                  1> Jesus had to lose a little in the transition -

                       "mild he lays his glory by."

                  2> This alludes to some of the attributes of God that

                        that Jesus had to give up.

                  3> As a human, Jesus couldn't glow with divine glory

                        or have total knowledge, such as the date of

                           his second coming.

      C. Jesus is above all a Savior.

          1) Why did Jesus come?  So God and sinners could be reconciled.

              a) That's a note you often don't hear in our celebrations.

              b) It's a clear teaching of the Bible - if you are not

                    committed to God, then you are against him.

              c) The mission of Jesus is to bring us together again.

          2) He gives us a glorious future - resurrection.

              a) Our Savior came down so that we could go up.

              b) He is born so that we won't have to die.

              c) We can experience this when we are born again in Jesus:

                   "born to give us second birth."

  V. The true meaning of Christmas.

      A. Society has its own version.

      Pastor Jack Crabtree writes:

      If we read the clues in our culture -- Hollywood Christmas stories,

         Christmas cards, even some sermons -- it becomes apparent what

            the "true meaning of Christmas" is supposed to be.

      Christmas is the celebration of love, generosity, benevolence,

         kindness, brotherhood, and family bonding.

      The true meaning of Christmas -- according to this way of thinking

         -- is a kind of Hallmark sentimentality.

      Is that, in fact, the true meaning of Christmas?

         No, it is not.

      The true meaning of Christmas is not about humans loving humans.

         The true meaning of Christmas is about God loving us.

      It is about God giving the most amazing and spectacular gift to a

         certain chosen few.


      B. "A few" doesn't have to mean a handful.

          1) As the carol correctly notes, all the nations are invited

                to praise Jesus.

          2) He is the Prince of Peace and the great Healer.

              a) Is it only the human-divine relationship that is healed?

              b) I think it includes human-human relationships too.

      C. Jesus comes to illuminate us and make us truly alive.

          1) Have you experienced this personally?



I drew upon two articles for this sermon:

"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: From Wesley to Our Hymnals," by Gordon Giles

in Christianity Today, December 14, 2007; excerpted from his book "O Come

Emmanuel: A Musical Tour of Daily Readings for Advent and Christmas."

"Hark the Herald Angels Sing: The Classic Christmas Hymn by Charles Wesley,"

by Melissa Howard, Nov. 6, 2007,


#28875  "The True Meaning of Christmas," by Jack Crabtree,


           December 1993.

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