Sermon – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (Luke 2:8 – 2:20) – Cornerstone Church Kingston
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Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

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"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"

Tom Sweatman, Luke 2:8 - 2:20, 13 December 2020

In our new series we explore the truths of the familiar carol 'Hark! The herald angels sing'. Tom takes a look into the first verse of the carol, which points us to the truth and joy in the gospel message.

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 the angelic host proclaim
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald-angels sing
"Glory to the new-born king"

Luke 2:8 - 2:20

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14   “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


Transcript (Auto-generated)

This transcript has been automatically generated, and therefore may not be 100% accurate.

We're now going to have our reading. Luke chapter 2 verses 8 to 20. Sorry. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby. Keeping watch over their flocks at night.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord.

This will be assigned to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host peered with the angel, praising God and saying glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the Shepard said to 1 another, well, let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened. Which the Lord has told us about.

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what they had been told them about this child. And all who heard it were amazed at what the Shepard said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The Shepard's returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.

Which were just as they had been told. Welcome to you. It's great to be here together. Gathered as the people of God and to be opening up this incredible hymn, this Carol, this well loved Carol. Which has been sung for generations, hark the herald angels sing.

We're just going to be looking this morning at the first verse And then this evening, we'll be looking at the second verse. And then next Sunday morning, before the Carol service, we'll be looking at the the third verse. In this modern modern version anyway. This is the first verse Hark, the herald angels sing glory to the newborn king. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.

Joyful, all you nations rise and join triumph of the skies with the angelic hosts proclaim. Christ is born in Bethlehem. Hark the herald angels sing glory to our newborn king. Let's pray together. Father, we thank you for this amazing Carol and we thank you for the way that it just reflects the truths that we find in your words.

We thank you that it gives us new words and phrases to help us to explore old truths. And we pray that as we look at it, we would delight again in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the most stunning announcement from heaven to earth that in the newborn king, God and sinners, people like us can be reconciled. We pray that you would help us to listen to Hark. We pray that you would help us to feel joy again in this message and we pray that you would help us to proclaim the glad tidings, the great news of Christ and his salvation.

And we ask these things in his name Oh, man. Oh, man. Here's a quote that I found on a blog this week, which I think really helps to explain the purpose of Carol's and why Hims in general are so helpful for us. And it reads like this. Carols help us to fight the soul damaging practice of making stupendous things dull.

That might be something that we're all tempted towards, particularly this time of year, to let the stupendous, marvelous, wonderous story of Christ coming to earth become dull. It's something that we know very well, most of us. It's something that we've heard and sung about for years. And it can just become a bit old hat, a bit dull, a bit run of the mill. And the problem is when stupendous truths become dull, our souls begin to decay.

That's what will happen to us. We will we will begin to rock on the inside, we will begin to lose the ability to feel how we ought to feel about these truths. And 1 of the reasons that Carols are so helpful is because they help us to fight against that tendency. They help us to see and say marvelous things, and stupendous things, and they give us the vocabulary to praise God as we as we should. And that is why Christians have always been a singing people for that very reason because we love and we know we need to mingle truth and celebration.

We are a people who mingle learning and delight. It's not that we learn stuff and then praise in that order, but as we learn, we praise. Proper education in the things of God leads to proper worship. That's how it's always always gone. And so this Carol is just perfect that, because it is so rich with theology, but it gives us the language to bounce it to bounce it back to God, thanks and to praise and to express what we ought to express.

Now this Carol was written long time ago, it was first written in 17 39 by Charles Wesley, great Christian Him writer. And but then it was adapted by George Whit field, who was an evangelical preacher of the gospel, and we've actually spent time thinking about him in our church history sessions before. And then it was adapted again in 19 61, and it's gradually just been getting smaller and smaller. So to start with, it was 10 it was 10 stands as long. And, you know, we would probably do well to sing sing a bit more of it because it's it's really good.

But it then went to 8, and now it's at 3. So they've obviously looked at what we can handle as a culture over time and just thought we need to we need to keep trimming it down. But that's something of history. It's very well loved. And as I say this morning, we're looking at this first verse, which in some ways is very lovely preach, and probably the simplest verse to preach, because it's just it's just drawing out of Luke chapter 2.

The other ones which Ben and Peter are doing, you know, a much more complicated in their theology in some ways. So, you know, I'm glad I'm glad I'm doing this 1 this morning. And there's just 3 points this morning, because this first verse fits quite neatly into a structure. And it just it just says there's something to hear, and there's something to feel, and there's something say. Something to hear, something to feel, and something to say.

And so the first point then is this something to hear. And the first word, and the most repeated word in our modern versions, is the word Hark. Hark, which is not a word we use at all anymore, but it simply means to listen. But, more than just to listen, to listen as you would listen to something that was very important. So if you can remember many, many moons ago being on a busy tube or being in an airport or a train station, and you might hear over the over the loud speaker.

Ladies and gentlemen, we've got an important notice, you know, for you, please. But but it comes in a way which says not importance, doesn't it? You know, it's it's kind of muffled, and The background noise all around you makes it very hard to tune into. And so even if it's actually a critical notice, just the the medium says says that we we can't really listen to it. But this word Hark is saying, look, no, listen as you would listen to the most important announcement, you can imagine.

It it demands our attention, this first verse. So it's not it's not that the the suggesting angel, or the angel who's recommending you listen. This is the herald angel. This is the announcing angel. The declaration angel.

It's not a it's not a it's not a suggestion. It's a command. You must listen in. To what heaven is saying to earth. And what is that message?

Well, this is this is the great This is the very this is the oldest version. And the first line of the oldest version. And it's Hark how all the welkin rings glory to the king of kings. And, you know, when we see the word whelk, we mustn't think of those garlic butter snacks that you might get in the east end with salt and vinegar you know, a pot of muscles and whelks. That's not obviously what Charles Wesley had in mind when he was writing this.

It's actually a word that describes the whole of the cosmos. And in some ways, we don't have Well, maybe we do. But it feels like we don't have an equivalent word these days. A word which describes everything spiritual and everything physical. It describes the worlds and the heavens It describes everything everywhere from the throne room of God to the earth we walk on, everything The Welkin rings.

We must we must listen in to what The Welkin is saying. You know, this great announcement from heaven that we must we must all we must all hear. Now, what is the substance of that? Well, it's in Luke chapter 2, and we've already read it. This is what the Wellkin is ringing with, and it's what the herald angels are singing.

Do not be afraid I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah of the Lord. This will be assigned to you. You will find him and a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly hosts appeared with the angel praising God and saying glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace on whom, peace to those on whom his his favor rests.

So this is why we have to hear and listen in, because the glory of God has it into a quiet corner of Bethlehem. The the glory of God is being seen. God, in all his greatness is being seen. And he has arrived in the person of his son. Heaven's king has come.

Hark the king has come. Now, what kind of king is he? Well, the Carol tells us that this is not a a warrior king who has come to stamp his feet and beat his chest, wage war on the world, it's not a politician who's come bringing some new policies, we're told he is a newborn king, peace on earth, mercy, mild. So this king has come to bring peace, This king is mercy mild, which is just a way of describing his tender and the tenderness of God's mercy. This is the 1 1 of my favorite verses.

This is the 1 who when he grew up would not would not crush a bruised reed, and he would not look at a small candle and blow it out. He would be tender with weak things, and he would be kind to fragile things. And he is merciful to sinners. That's who this king is. He is powerful, he is holy, but he is the incarnation of tenderness, he is mercy, mercy, mercy, mild.

So this is very good news for us. The king has come. And we need to hark then to the central message that in him God and sinners will be reconciled. That's just that's just the simple, delightful message of this first verse. God and sinners reconciled in Christ.

And this is why the angels are so very enthusiastic about this message. Because to them, this is a strange message in some ways. They're kind of looking on with with mystery and wonder. Here's a quote from 1 a church theologian who says this about these angels. There is therefore no reason for us of glory, as though we were superior to angels, except that our heavenly father has manifested towards us, that amply mercy.

Which we needed. So that the angels themselves might, from on high, behold so great a bounty poured upon the earth. This is why the angels are just bowing in and wondering at what God is doing here. Because sinful angels Angel who sinned against God had no opportunity for reconciliation. They condemned forever to judgment.

Godly angels who live in his presence and praise him forever, have no need of reconciliation. 1 group can't be consult. The other group have no need, but we do have a need, we do need to be reconciled to God, and we can be. This is why they're they're looking from on high so great a bounty poured on the earth, because sinners like us. Can be reconciled to the Holy God.

And so, this announcement is a good news announcement But in that way, it also sign posts to our sin, doesn't it? It tells us why we why we need it. 1 of the original verses a little bit later on, I think it's number I don't know what number it is, actually. But says this, again, highlighting our need. Come desire of nations come.

Fix in us thy humble home, rise the woman's conquering seed, brews in us, the serpent's head. And that's just a wonderful promise, isn't it, drawn from Genesis 3? That the seed of the woman would rise up and crush Satan underfoot, and we need that miracle enacted in us, we need this mild, gentle king to bruise the serpent's head in us, because by we are sinners. We we we we hate the laws of God. We turn away from the laws of God.

And there is a sense in which we we live under the serpent's head, under his authority, doing his ways and ignoring God. But this Savior has come, so that we can be reconciled. So that serpent can be crushed in us as he was crushed on the cross, and so that we can we can know God in this way. So to the Shepard, you can see how this really was an incredible message. When the glory of God erupted in the skies of Bethlehem, they were just wondering at what God was doing.

But I reckon for these angels, This this was understated. You know, this was not glorious enough for the content of the message. For the Shepard, it was too much. For the angels, it was too little Such was the greatness of this message. There is hope for mankind, hope for the nations in our Lord Jesus Christ.

And what a great message of peace that is, not 1 of war, not a policy, a message of shalom, a peace of wholeness. With us in God. And so this first verse is is just is is is stupendously wonderful. And it was interesting yesterday, as Chris mentioned, we turned this place upside down, and it was if you'd been here just a few hours ago. It would look weirdly different to now.

We had herod's palace over where Naomi is, and we had the Shepard Hillside where the deveins are over there. And And it was just lovely to take children from the local area around. And that's the glory of this message that you can teach in some a way that even the youngest kids will get it, but it is in no way a childish message. It is not just quaint and cute. It is eternal, weighty, serious, proper joy.

What we are dealing with here is a collision of worlds, heaven and earth, holy and sinful. God and us. This is a wonderful message and we need to ask the Lord that this joy would be fresh, that this stupendous thing would not become dial in our hearts. I mean, woe to us, really? Isn't it?

If this stupendous thing becomes dull. So let me ask, at the end of this first point, what are you harking to at the moment? What are you what are you listening in What's the important announcement in your life? Sometimes I feel that this message has become for me, like the tube announcement. You know, it's always sort of going on in the background, but the noises around me are are what I'm what I'm really listening into Well, we need to listen into this glorious message and not allow this stupendous truth to decay our souls by, as it becomes dull.

So there's something to hear. Secondly, there is there is something to feel. Something to hear, something to feel. And Because, as I say, Carols are are mixing. Always mixing truth and praise They're helping us not only to say true things, but to feel the way those truths should make us feel.

They're helping us do truth and celebration in the way that we should. And that's not just something you find in Carol's. That is a biblical pattern. So if you're familiar with the end of Romans chapter 11, this is exactly what we see. The the technical way of saying it would be theology and doc pathology, truth and truth and worship.

And after for 11 chapters outlining the gospel, Paul is then just so excited about what God has done in Christ. It's as if he puts down his pen and starts singing, into the page. And he's saying, oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his ways for from him and to him and from him, all things forever and ever. And he just he's just delighting in what God has done in the gospel, because truth and praise always belong together. And that is what we see in the in the Carol.

Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconcile. There's the there's what we hark to. How should it What should it do to us? Joyful. All you nations rise and join the triumph of the skies.

The glory of God has been painted in the sky. Christ has come. There is hope for the world, sinners like us, And I mean, me, and I mean you here today and you watching at home, we can be reconciled through Christ, through his cross. This is a message of joy and celebration for the world. And you can see the Shepard just get it straight away.

I mean, look how they respond. The angel said to them, do not be afraid. I bring you good news. That will pause, great joy for all the people. Then at the end of the passage, the Shepard's returned, glorifying, and praising They're not You know, it's not it's not dull.

They're not even just talking about it academically. They know this is praise worthy news. For all the things that they had heard and and seen. So this is the second command to us. We must hark but we must also join in the celebration.

Now, it might be. And, you know, Chris was alluding to this in his prayers as well that But you feel at the end of this year that there's not, there's not many reasons to rise up joy for And, you know, for lots of us, you know, it has been a very tough year. There there there are members of our church, loved ones who have gone on to be with the Lord. Many of us will know family and friends who have who have suffered a lot more than us this year. And as we approach Christmas, we might be conscious of family members not there who should be in messy situations, which make it hard to rejoice.

And we might just think, well, you know, after this year, rising up joyfully is just is just not how I feel. But perhaps that is a misunderstanding of what Christian Joy is all about anyway. Because Christian Joy is not just about painting a happy gloss over a broken wall. It's not just about smearing over the cracks and pretending they're not there. The reason we can rise up joyfully is because God has come into the messiness, and the brokenness, and the sinfulness, and the sadness.

The reason this is joyful is because God hasn't left us, in that world, that the Savior has come rolled up his sleeves and stepped into a world of all this pain and sadness and provided a way for us to be saved and for our souls to be rescued. That is what Christian Joy is about. Not just a pretense, not rising up joyfully, knowing that actually we don't feel that. But that God has come into our sinful, broken lives, and that we can be reconciled to God. So that no matter what else is going wrong, our souls are safe with Jesus.

And therefore, we can sing. There's an amazing verse in 1 Peter chapter 1, where there are a suffering group of Christians, and Peter writes this to them. Though you have not seen Christ, You love him. And even though you do not see him now, you believe in him, and are filled with an expressible and glorious joy for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. These were Christians suffering.

And yet, God says, you don't see him, but you see him. You don't You're not with him now, but you're with him. And you are filled with joy, because your soul is safe. That's the kind of joy that Christmas is all about. So that quote, again, Carol's help us to fight the soul damaging practice of making stupendous things dull.

And You know, that's why let this Carol help your soul. Let it minister to your at this time of year. Christianity is the 1 faith that puts the song in the heart. No other faith puts gladness on the lips in the way this does. No other faith would give us the sort of happy assurance of sinners reconciled to their God forever.

We can sing because we know this is true. And it is a perfectly biblical prayer to say, Lord, restore to me the joy of my salvation, not the knowledge of it necessarily, but the joy that should accompany heaven's message. So there's something to say and there's something to feel. Something to hear. Sorry.

Something to feel, and then there's something to say. And as I say, the Christian life is this mixture, isn't it, of learning and praising and praising and sharing. And, you know, the truth is, we we speak about what excites us. Don't we? You know, what what really thrills our hearts is what we what we talk about.

And the command of this Carol is let the gospel thrill you, and then shout it from the rooftops. You can see joy for all you nations rise. Join the triumph of the skies with the angelic host proclaim. Christ is born. In Bethlehem.

And that is the first time the word Christ is used in the Carol, and it tells us of that term that God's promised rescuer King, the long promised 1 has come, he has been born, and our job is to join in the announce not only with heart, but with voice. Not only with feeling, but with speaking. We are to share this message that Christ has been has been born. And again, the reason, you know, we can talk like this from the Carol is because it's right here in the passage. In Luke 2, what do the shepherds do?

They hurry off and they find Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, They kept it all to themselves. When they had seen him, they spread the words. Concerning what had been told them about the child. They did what Wesley said we should do which was to join the triumph of the skies and with the angels to proclaim that Christ is born.

And the interesting little twist here in this passage is that now, at the end, the shepherds have become the angels, haven't they? To start with, they're out on the hillside looking after their flocks. The angels appear to them and say Christ is born. By the end of the passage, the angels are gone and the to become the angels, because they are now appearing as a company of people, saying Christ is born, come and see, is just as they said, they have become the heavenly messengers. These ordinary men who were very unclean not welcome in holy places, in normal circumstances, they are now heaven's messengers.

They are new men, going back to old jobs with good news. And, the summons in this hymn is for us to be like them. Because like the shepherds, we are very ordinary people. We are just ordinary sinners who have turned away from the God who loves us, and yet in Jesus, there is hope for a new start and a new life. What God wants to do is to take ordinary people like us and turn us into angels, in that sense, to turn us into messengers.

Who can go and say that Christ has been born for me and Christ has been born for you. And that really is all our messages out. It's these 4 commands. Hark, rise, join, proclaim. You know, There is a place for persuading people and for using logic and for reasoning people around, but at its root, the gospel is an announcement of things done already.

Hark, join, rise, proclaim. Heaven has done something, you can be part of it, trust, obey, rejoice, and speak. This is what the Carol calls us to. So again, as we close, have these stupendous truths become dull to us. Do we notice any of that soul decay that comes when wondrous things lose their shine.

Well, let's pray that the Lord would help us feel what we ought to feel about this news and to say what we ought to say. About this news. Let's look for opportunities to be like the angels and the shepherds and to proclaim a born Christ for sinners. Let's bow our heads and pray together. Our heavenly father, we confess and are sorry to you for when this wondrous message of the Gospel, this stupendous truth becomes dull to our ears.

For when the fact that we as sinners can be reconciled through Christ, loses its shine. We don't think much of it. And we thank you that this time of year stops us in our tracks and it pulls us up short and it helps us to do a bit of soul analysis to see if we are feeling what we should feel about truth. And, Lord, we thank you so much for our Lord, Jesus. And we pray that you would help us to listen closely to the gospel this year that we would rise up joyfully with the nations that we would join in the triumph of the skies.

The victory is won. Christ is here and that we would go out in whatever ways we can. And proclaim that Christ has been born in Bethlehem. Lord, we know that we we speak about what excites us. And we're sorry that very often the gospel doesn't excite us enough to pass it on.

Please forgive us and help us to have opportunity to share this life bringing news in Jesus' name, amen.

Preached by Tom Sweatman
Tom Sweatman photo

Tom is an Assistant Pastor at Cornerstone and lives in Kingston with his wife Laura and their two children.

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