Hark! The Herald Angel Sings

“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 newborn King!’”

This is my first Christmas as a graduate of grad school, a full-time employee, a married man.  I’ve reached that level of living called adulthood, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.  One of the things that is noticeably different is how I approach Christmas.  As a child and teenager, Christmas was the ecstasy of gift-getting.  When I was very young, Christmas couldn’t come soon enough, because then I could see what all my generous parents had put under the tree for me.  Even when I reached teenage-dom, when the magic had worn off somewhat, and I could joke with my sister that she got more gifts than I did without actually caring (because my parents love her way more than me, obviously), I still just wanted things, and that was the point of Christmas for me.  Even if I knew the real reason for Christmas and the hypothetical rationale for why we give presents in December, I can’t lie- the idea that Christ is the ultimate gift, and that it’s the reason we put gifts under the tree for Christmas, seemed trite to me. Continuing this honesty: as a seasoned adult of 24 years, that idea still seems trite.  It’s not like Christ came to Earth to inspire us to give more presents at Christmas.  I guess you could say I’m afraid of leaving the whole of Christmas behind if I embrace any one secular part; in this case, spending money on gifts.

“Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
‘Glory to the newborn King!’”

My favorite version of this song is the version in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, when all the kids point their faces to the sky and, as the animated blobs that form their mouths articulate indiscriminately, sing this centuries-old hymn in praise to Jesus.  My pastor preached on this song this morning, pointing out the rich theology hidden in verses that appear in department stores and on the radios of non-believers for a month or so out of the year.  Jesus came to reconcile us to His Father; He came in the fullness of God; He came to save us from death; He came to give us “second birth”.  This is the full story of Christmas, in the words of Charles Wesley.  And as my pastor reminded me this morning, the only response is worship.

“Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
‘Glory to the newborn King!’”

But if there’s something I personally need to learn from this song, it’s that the little things count as worship.  “Hark! The Herald” is widely regarded in the secular world as a curio from the past, a relic from a religion that no longer applies to this world.  Most Christmas hymns are seen this way, loved for the nostalgia associated with them and not for their religious significance.  This is why the gospel is proclaimed on the airwaves every November and December in the form of Christmas carols.  “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the same way; the secular world embraces the TV special as a Christmas tradition, so Linus’s nearly word-for-word retelling of the nativity story is broadcast on national TV every single year.  It would be foolish to dismiss things that America at large accepts as secular tchotchkes as therefore useless.  And just because the culture I live in deems gift-giving as a secular act, that doesn’t mean I can’t buy gifts for my loved ones as worship of the Most High God, knowing that in my small way I am modeling how God is a Father who gives us good gifts.  My understanding of Christmas grows year after year.  This year, I don’t want to miss the forest for the Christmas tree.  God-willing, I’ll worship Him in the little things.

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