Hark! the Herald Angels Sing – The Concert in the Field
Christianity is unique among the religions of the world for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is that we are a singing faith.
- Christmas trees stand in its places of honor, but trees have been objects of worship since the days of the Druids and the Canaanites.
- And the candles sparkle cheerfully in the Advent wreath. But candles and fire have been a part of worship for centuries and even to this day, but not solely in the Christian faith – fire goes back to primitive religions and even to Satanism.
- There is one thing, however, that is part of our worship that is not primarily a part of the worship of any other major faith on earth. That is singing. Christianity is the one faith that puts a song in your heart.
- Confucianism has no chorales.
- Shintoism has no songs.
- Islam has no glorias.
- Atheism has no anthems.
- Of course Judaism has songs and that is root from which Christianity came
It is good that singing is a part of our faith; music / singing is an expression of our own hearts. We listen to cantatas – slipping CD’s in as we drive and on Christmas Eve we will flip around channels looking for Christmas concerts
- Even “Saturday Night Live" strayed from the comedy path for their opening last Saturday opting instead for a somber performance of "Silent Night" by the New York City Children's Chorus in light of Friday's Newtown, Connecticut school shooting.
- I am not sure I have a favorite singer and it would be hard for me to pick a classical song or a new Christmas song. Have You Seen the Baby may be my favorite modern Christmas song and probably Silent Night the oldie but goodie hymn.
- I remember a day when stores played Christian Christmas music as you shopped. And the nativity set in front of the court house use to play Christmas hymns. Schools use to have Christmas concerts – which are now called winter concerts because we can’t mix anything about Christ because we are afraid to be sued of mixing church and state. (Then maybe only Christians get off for Christmas and non-believers can keep the world going on by working.)
- But no matter how hard people try, they cannot take the songs of Christmas away from us; the world hears the message of Christ’s birth every year whether they want to or not. The heavenly host began to praise the God.
Luke 2:8-20 (NIV)
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
- The first Christmas carol was sung by angels. It was the song sung by the angels over those shepherds' fields outside Bethlehem: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
- There are those who don't believe in angels. That's all right; there's nothing that says a person has to believe in angels in order to be a Christian. But I believe in angels, and I think the day will come when you believe in them, too. The Bible mentions angels more than 250 times, and that's good enough for me.
- Now, I want to make clear that I don't believe in angels the way some people picture them. They're not chubby little cherubs going around with no clothes on. Also they are not Christians who have died. And they're not great majestic creatures with vast wings.
- Angels are not glorified human beings. In Matthew 22:30 it explains that angels do not marry or reproduce like humans, and Hebrews 12:22-23 says that when we get to the heavenly Jerusalem, we will be met by “thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly ” and “the spirits of righteous men made perfect”—which are two separate groups: Angels and the Spirits of Righteous People.
- Angels fall into two categories: Fallen – Satan, Lucifer and his demons. And the holy host – the un-fallen angels.
- Holy angels fall into special classes: archangels and angels.
- Certain angels are named and mentioned in the Scripture: Michael the archangel is likely the head of all the holy angels and his name means “who is like unto God?” (Daniel 10:21; 12:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7-10). – I bet that rankles Lucifer that he has that name. I am sure that Michael who is leading worship this morning ever told his brother what his name means.
- Gabriel is one of the principal messengers of God, his name meaning “hero of God,” and was entrusted with important messages such as those delivered to Daniel (Daniel 8:16; 9:21), to Zacharias (Luke 1:18-19), and to Mary (Luke 1:26-38).
- The unnamed angels who appear most often in Scripture carry out a variety of tasks—all designed to serve God…
- Worship and praise - This is the main activity portrayed in heaven (Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4-5).
- Revealing - They serve as messengers to communicate God's will to men. They helped reveal the law to Moses (Acts 7:52-53), and served as the carriers of much of the material in Daniel, and Revelation.
- Guiding - Angels gave instructions to Joseph about the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1-2), to the women at the tomb, to Philip (Acts 8:26), and to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8).
- Providing - God has used angels to provide physical needs such as food for Hagar (Genesis 21:17-20), Elijah (1 Kings 19:6), and Christ after His temptation (Matthew 4:11).
- Protecting - Keeping God's people out of physical danger, as in the cases of Daniel and the lions, and his three friends in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3 and 6).
- Delivering - Getting God's people out of danger once they're in it. Angels released the apostles from prison in Acts 5, and repeated the process for Peter in Acts 12.
- Strengthening and encouraging - Angels strengthened Jesus after His temptation (Matt 4:11), encouraged the apostles to keep preaching after releasing them from prison (Acts 5:19-20), and told Paul that everyone on his ship would survive the impending shipwreck (Acts 27:23-25).
- Answering prayer - God often uses angels as His means of answering the prayers of His people (Daniel 9:20-24; 10:10-12; Acts 12:1-17).
- Caring for believers at the moment of death - In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, we read that angels carried him to Abraham’s bosom.
- The angels (and all other spiritual beings) have been around a lot longer than we humans have. Look at Genesis chapter 1, verse 1, the Scripture reads, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In the beginning God created angels some rebelled but there are a vast number of angels that are under the command of God. And these angels were present in the incarnation.
- There came that moment when the Infinite became crystal-clear, definite, when Christ left heaven and came to earth.
- Since they had seen him from the very beginning, can you imagine the joy and wonderment and amazement that must have been theirs when they saw the Holy Spirit swoop down upon that little town in Israel of old, that little place called Bethlehem, and there with a stable, and in a stall, and with straw, that glorious Son became flesh?
- That's the reason those angels could sing, "Glory to God in the highest heaven." They saw it all from the very beginning, and I mean from the very beginning.
- The message of the angels sang is about peace on earth, that the God of creation has come to be with us.
- Peace on earth – we haven’t seen it in our history. We are in war with other nations, generation after generation we send our men and women off to war and the tragedy of last weekend at Sandy Hooks Elementary School still is fresh in our mind we wonder about peace.
- Where is the peace? War after war after war. Shooting after shootings. The absence of peace. Why? Well, if you ask most people why there has been no peace, they'll say it's the other fellow's fault.
- People screaming at each other about gun laws and mental health issues and politicizing the whole event in Newtown and missing the point of caring for the wounded and brokenhearted.
- A number of years ago Ann Landers wrote a column in which she tried to depict what the earth would be like after a nuclear war. And she asked all of her readers to clip the article and to send it to the White House. The President wrote her a letter about two weeks later in which he acknowledged that he had received over two hundred clippings (pretty low I think). But then he went on to suggest, "I think you sent them to the wrong place. They should have been sent to the Kremlin."
- The problem is with those other guys. That's always the problem with peace, isn't it?
- Here is my thought on why we have a lack of peace – we don’t have the Peace Maker in our lives and I’m not talking about a hand gun. When our souls have been at Bethlehem, when our souls have seen and experienced the sacrifice in the love of God, when we have experienced the grace and the peace that comes only from God, then we can begin to become an agent of peace not a peaceful person only, but a peacemaking and peaceful person.
- In the great desire to have an inclusive culture we have removed God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit from our culture – from our schools, from the public all in the name of separation of church and state and we somehow can’t see the correlation between violence and hatred and the lack of Christ in our culture.
- We desperately need a revival - 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV) 14 if my people, who are called by my name - Christians, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
- Can we force people to humble themselves or participate in prayer? No we can’t but we can begin the journey to having a revival – it has to begin with us.
- We need to humble ourselves that to me means that we must go humbly before God and ask for forgiveness.
- We need to pray – not just a few minutes of talking – we need to listen to God
- We need to clean ourselves up. Garbage in garbage out. Sin is sin and we need to turn from it. We are violent because that is what goes into our lives day in and day out – time is now to turn away from it and turn to the Peace Maker.
- The angels sang of peace among those who found his favor." Not everyone gets the message. Notice how the carol puts it 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. Peace was available but only to the ones that would receive it.
- The Bible's right up front when it says that most people who heard the song didn't pay much attention to it.
- Matthew talks about a star but notes that only a few people followed it – we assume it’s 3 scholars but we don’t know how many there were but they brought 3 gifts.
- Luke tells us about this song of the angels, but there's no evidence that a great number of people responded to it.
- Matthew reports that Jesus’ own home town did not receive Him.
- Do you know any Scrooges – those grouches that don’t want anything to do with Christmas? By the time Christmas Eve rolls around even the sourest pusses get a smile. But then, for the majority of these Scrooges, it won't last. It will tarnish and disappear.
- There will be arguments in the very best families, and after Christmas dinner there will be all those dirty dishes to do.
- Christmas will go down the drain just like that dirty dishwater does.
- They acknowledge the fact that somehow they've been moved at this season, but it'll all be gone very fast, and they'll pack it away with their tree lights, somewhere up in the attic or perhaps down in the basement until it is dragged out with moaning and groaning.
- But for those who are of good will, for those with whom God is pleased, for those who hear God and obey God, for those who welcome the Christ Child into their lives, Christmas is forever.
My dad use to listen to a preacher in Pittsburgh that was considered the preacher’s preacher, Dr. Bruce Thielemann who served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh – he was a great story teller. He tells the short story by Bret Harte’s The Luck of Roaring Camp which became a classic short story and it propelled Harte into a writing career. It was first published in 1868 in the Overland Monthly.
Roaring Camp was supposed to be, according to the story, the meanest, toughest mining town in the West. There were murders and was a terrible place inhabited entirely by men, except for one woman who tried to serve them all. Her name was Cherokee Sal. She died while giving birth to a baby boy. Well, the men took the baby naming him Thomas Luck – thinking he would bring them luck and they put him in a box with some old rags under him. When they looked at him, they decided that didn't look right, so they sent one of the men 80 miles away to buy a rosewood cradle. He brought it back, and they put the rags and the baby in the rosewood cradle. And the rags didn't look right there. So they sent another of their number to Sacramento, and he came back with some beautiful silk and lace blankets. And they put the baby, wrapped around with those blankets, in the rosewood cradle. It looked fine until someone happened to notice that the floor was so filthy. So these hardened, tough men got down on their hands and knees, and with their rough hands they scrubbed that floor until it was clean. Of course, what that did was to make the walls and the ceiling and the dirty windows without curtains look absolutely terrible. So they washed down the walls and the ceiling, and they put curtains at the windows. And now things were beginning to look as they thought they should look. But of course, they had to give up a lot of their fighting, because the baby slept a lot, and babies can't sleep during a brawl. So the whole temperature of Roaring Camp seemed to go down. They used to take him out and set him by the entrance to the mine in his rosewood cradle so they could see him when they came up. Then somebody noticed what a dirty place that was, so they planted flowers, and they made a very nice garden there. It looked quite beautiful. And they would bring his shiny little stones and things that they would find in the mine. But when they would put their hands down next to his, their hands looked so dirty. Pretty soon the general store was all sold out of soap and shaving gear and perfume. . . the baby changed everything.
The Baby changed everything! The Baby, Jesus has entered into our lives, and He slips into every crevice of our experiences, until we say "Hark! Listen, the herald angels sing! God is for us. And Christmas is forever."
My hope and prayer for you this Christmas Sunday is that you will let Christmas be forever for you. And that you will invite this little One who comes into the world to live in you. So let us sing the song of angels – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Dr. Bruce Thielemann served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He held degrees from Westminster College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a certificate from St. Andrews University in Scotland.