Biblical Messages

CAROLS BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Hark! the herald angels sing

The spat between Wesley and Whitfield over the lyrics to this much-beloved carol is a thing of legend (albeit true), but the theology in both the Whitefield-revised version and the Wesley-penned version is top shelf, and deserves our attention.  This message is based on Revelation 21.1-7 and Romans 6.1-11, and can be listened to here:

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Encouragement From The Word

God in the flesh

Christmas wasn’t always a given. The world marks it as a game-saving, end-of-year commercial venture. The church marks it as the celebration of God, having come in the flesh. But even in the first century, not everybody was willing to believe that God could possibly have come in the flesh.

I’ve been preaching through John’s first letter for the past nine weeks. It was intentional that I would conclude it at the end of the season of Advent, because the letter is all about emphasizing that God did take on human flesh; as the prophet foretold, Jesus came as Immanuel: God with us.

John had to emphasize the incarnation because there were people in the first century church he led who were trying to convince the believers that God couldn’t possibly have come in the flesh; they believed that God was 100% spiritual and 100% not physical. But John had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, lived with Jesus – he knew God had come in human form.

The church needs to celebrate this truth publicly and loudly! And the great irony of Christmas is that people who might not otherwise engage with anything theological, or have a conversation about Jesus, will gleefully sing excellent theology at this time of year. Consider the words of this ancient carol, which streamed over my computer while I was writing this:

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.”


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.”


Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail, the Sun 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.”


These words of Charles Wesley, altered by George Whitefield (that’s another story!), proclaim the truth of Christmas, and the heart of the message of 1 John: God has come in the flesh. God! No less than the Creator of the world has broken into history to be one with us, born of a Virgin, laying aside his glory…for what reason? “Born that man no more may die,” said Wesley. Jesus came to break the cycle of sin and faithlessness, opening the door of heaven to all who will believe.

Jesus is God in the flesh – and even in the malls this is proclaimed for a twelfth of a year! Let’s rejoice – and pray that these words so much of humanity joins in singing will reach the hearts of all.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21, NLT).