Hymn text by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788. View the full text of this hymn.

Shepherds in the Fields

When I picture the hours after Christ’s birth, I imagine a peaceful setting. An open-air stable is set into the side of a hill, lit by a couple flickering lamps. Mary gently rocks the newborn child in her arms while Joseph moves about making Mary comfortable. The night sky, free of clouds, is a deep royal blue and full of bright stars. The shepherds, if they have arrived, are quietly looking on from one side, kneeling in reverent worship. My imagination may not be historically accurate, but it serves well as a focal point of contemplation.

What doesn’t appear in my imagined Nativity, though, is the joyous song of angelic hosts. While the scene of the birth itself is a quiet, peaceful one, the annunciation to the shepherds was a triumphant rejoicing event:

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!

How must those angels have felt, sent to announce the birth of Christ himself, the cornerstone of Redemption and Exaltation for all mankind. Perhaps some of these angels were ancestors of Christ. Perhaps among their number were prophets who had foretold of his coming centuries earlier. Perhaps there were many who had not yet come to Earth, rejoicing to see the author of their own salvation they knew they would so desperately need. We don’t really know who they were, but we do know they were thrilled to be there.

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen 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.

I love this hymn, because it tells us why we should rejoice. It leads us not only to his birth but to the Redemption, Healing, and Restoration that he brings us. The angels say “Hark!”, which means “listen” or “pay attention!” The angelic news is not simply that Christ was born—their message is we should seek him out, follow him and listen to him. Let’s not limit our Christmas thoughts to Luke chapter 2, for we are not here just to find him, but to follow him.

One comment on “Hymn #209: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

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