Advent 2 – Hark the Herald Angels

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Sermon # in the series: Do You Hear What I Hear?
Scripture: John 1
Speaker: Pastor Fred Provencher

Introduction
We have entitled our continuing series on the theological truths of Christmas carols, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” This morning we look at the words to Hark The Herald Angel Sing. Embedded in this profound hymn are truths about our relationship to God and Jesus’ identity. We are also going to connect the lyrics to the opening part of John’s gospel to both understand what Charles Wesley wrote and worship more deeply at Christmas time.

Verse 1: God and sinners reconciled

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 th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

A herald is a messenger and in the days before mass media they were often sent to a village to proclaim an important announcement. Here the writer is saying “look, the messenger of God is singing.” He is singing because of Jesus’ birth. It brings peace and reconciliation because “God and sinners (are) reconciled.” That is indeed good news but it must mean that God and sinners were not reconciled before this. What is the story behind that? Scripture tell us that God created the world and it was very good. He created humanity to live in ongoing, open relationship with him. But the first humans rebelled against God and the rest of us have continued to disobey bringing a break in our relationship with our Creator.
John refers to this in the first chapter of his gospel when he describes Jesus coming into the world:

John 1
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

We did not receive the Son of God when he came and that means there is a break in our relationship. But I can imagine someone saying: Why should there be anything between God and me? I didn’t do anything to him. I am a good person, better than average and I don’t see why God would be angry about that.
Let me share two images of a fractured relationship that help us understand.

First, imagine that a young man graduates high school. He walks in his gown, takes pictures with his family goes out with his friends. The next day his mom sees him loading things into his car. She asks where he is going and he says that a friend has an apartment over someone’s garage and he was moving in. The mom is stunned – “what are you talking about, why aren’t you going to stay here? You will be moving out soon enough?” He responds that it simply seemed like a good thing. No anger, no accusations. “You are fine. I just want to do this.” And he moves out. He doesn’t call or see his parents all summer long. As Labor Day approaches he heads off to college. A few weeks later he gets a memo from the registrar that he has some unpaid bills. So he calls home:
“I thought you were going to pay for college, what happened?”
“Well we have to talk. You never called us. You ignored us all summer long.”
“Why are you upset? What did I do? I have been well behaved, never late for work over the summer, never got drunk, or did drugs, tipped 20%. What did I do? It seems entirely inappropriate for you to be angry at me.”
“What did you do? I am glad you are a good person, but you are also my son. You are supposed to love me, care about me. It is not ok for a son to ignore his family.”

In a situation like this we can see that ignoring someone can mean a break in the relationship. If God were a distant impersonal life force then ignoring him would be morally neutral. But if God is our father we cannot ignore him, disobey him or go our own way and expect the relationship to be unaffected.

I will give you another example. This is a true story:

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (CBS) — A routine shoplifting investigation gave way to tenderness after a police officer learned what a woman had stolen–and why.

Employees at Portsmouth’s Ocean State Job Lot saw a woman shoplifting on November 19, and called police. Officer Michael Kotsonis was able to track the woman down from surveillance.
But when Officer Kotsonis found out that the woman had taken little more than some Crisco and vanilla frosting–what she said were ingredients for a cake for her daughter’s birthday–he knew what he had to do.

Kotsonis returned to the Job Lot and purchased all of the ingredients and returned them to the mother in need.
Assistant Store Manager Dan Rose said it wasn’t something he expected from anybody.

“For somebody to pay for someone else’s stuff is just amazing,” Rose said. “It’s above and beyond.”
But fellow officers say it’s typical behavior for the 19-year veteran of the force.

“[It was] pretty typical of this particular officer and a lot of police officers,” said Lt. Darrin Sargent. “They don’t look for recognition for the good things that happen. I think it happens more often than we know.”
Nobody involved condones the theft, something Kotsonis spoke to the woman about afterward.

This is a picture of what Jesus has done for us. When that woman stole the cake ingredients she broke relationship with the store. If she was going to reconcile with them someone had to pay the price. In the same way we have broken relationship with God and Jesus has come to pay the price that we might be declared not guilty. This is what the hymn writer means when he says “God and sinners reconciled.

Transition: Who is Jesus that he can pay that price? The police officer had the authority to not arrest the woman, and the money in his pocket to pay her bill. He was the right man for the situation. Who is Jesus to intervene for us?

Verse 2: Veiled in flesh the Godhead see

Christ, by highest heav’n adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favored one.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

The songs describes Jesus as the “Godhead” who is “veiled in flesh.” “Godhead” is a term used by theologians to describe God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is not three Gods or even one God who appears in three forms. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit in his essence and the term godhead refers to this. In Jesus we see God but he is veiled in flesh. Looking at John again there are three passages that point this out.

John 1
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind…
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…

18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

John tells us that Jesus is God. He calls him the “Word.” In Greek that is logos and it refers to the creative power of God. God’s word is God and yet somehow distinct. God made the world by speaking and so his word was there before history began. That word became flesh, he says in verse 14, and dwelled among us. The word used for dwell is also a word used to describe the Tabernacle in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. God lived in the middle of the nation in the Tabernacle, but the people could not see him. There was a veil between the Holy Place, where a priest could go, and the Holy of Holies, where God presence hovered over the Ark of the Covenant.
In John 1 we see that Jesus is the eternal word of God, made human. He moved into our world and revealed the glory of God. The hymn would say “veiled in flesh, the godhead see.”

So we are a rebellious or apathetic people and there is a rift between us and God. Jesus can bridge that rift because he is the Son of God — God wrapped in flesh. So what does it mean when God in Jesus offers us reconciliation?

Verse 3: Born to give them second birth

Hail! the heav’n 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.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

The hymn writer describes our reconciliation as more than just being acquitted of a crime. Reconciliation is a chance to start over again, a chance to be “reborn.”
John describes it this way:

John1
11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Conclusion
We are offered second birth, a chance to start over. This happens when we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who has come to lay down his life for our sins. It continues as we admit our need for forgiveness, our guilt from our sin and ask Jesus to forgive us. This cleanses us from all sin and allows God to accept us as his children. But this chance to start over is available all the time. Jesus has already paid for all our sin so everyday, every moment is a chance to start over.
That is reason to sing. That is a reason to join the choir and the messenger angel and proclaim his birth.

John 1
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and[b] is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

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