Hark the Herald Angels Sing…

(Originally published 11/30/11)

I don’t know about you, but the older I get the more nostalgic I become.  I think it’s because of all the changes that are taking place in our country; changes that are moving us from a spiritual nation—a nation founded by God and lived under God—to a secular nation where more and more people no longer believe in the God of the Bible which has caused many to abandon traditional values and do whatever seems right in their own eyes. Since I find myself longing for the proverbial “good old days”—a time when everything seemed simpler and clearer.

A time when peoples’ thinking wasn’t so morally confused; when everyone knew right from wrong instinctively and when speaking out against evil didn’t brand you a ‘phobe’ of any kind. A time when patriotism and the love of country was assumed and not assailed; and when everyone this time of year went around saying, “Merry Christmas” and no one even thought to be offended. Of course all of that has changed.

Many retailers have instructed their employees to no longer say “Merry Christmas” but instead to say something generic like “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings.” Many companies won’t allow their employees to put up a Manger or even have a small one displayed on their desk. Many employers have instructed their employees that they can’t give one another Christmas cards containing any “religious” themes as they might be offensive to some. Of course one of the main areas where we see this anti-Christmas political correctness being promoted is in the public schools system. 

When I was in school as a kid it was always called “Christmas break” now it’s called “Winter break”—but it doesn’t stop there. Many school districts have prohibited Christmas carols from being sung during school festivities. I read a story about a school in eastern Massachusetts where the children were informed that they could not sing songs with any religious references in them. They also could not wear Santa hats or even elf hats with red in them—they had to be white. Christmas trees had to be referred to as “magical trees.”  So when one parent walked into their child’s class while they were singing, instead of the class singing “we wish you a merry Christmas” they were singing “we wish you a swinging holiday”.

Even the Salvation Army hasn’t been immune from the war on Christmas. I recently heard the story of a Salvation Army worker who was informed by a policeman that a local ordinance would prevent her from ringing her bells to invite contributions.  She was polite and apologetic that she had “broken” the law—however she was determined not to give up too quickly and so she came up with an idea.  The next day she was back in front of the store doing a brisker business than ever—as she waved one sign and then another in the air. One sign said “ding” and the other said “dong.”  Which is fitting because the world is full of “ding dongs” who are doing all they can to sanitize and secularize the Christmas season to the point where there will be no trace of Christianity left in it when they are finished.

But even more to the point—the war on Christmas is really a war on Christ Himself—Who is the “reason for the season”.

One of the groups that are leading the charge in the war against Christmas (and Christ) is a group called the ‘American Atheists’ who recently spent $20,000 to put up a billboard in New Jersey. The large billboard is on Route 495 near the Lincoln Tunnel and depicts a silhouette of the Three Wise Men approaching a manger alongside the words: “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON!”  Dave Silverman, a spokesman for the group, said the sign isn’t designed to convert Christians to atheism but rather to encourage existing atheists who are going through the motions of celebrating Christmas—poor babies!

Now while the atheists want to remove Christ from Christmas and celebrate a “generic, non-specific winter holiday”—many others have simply gotten so busy with the season they don’t have time for the Savior or have simply forgotten Him altogether.

It reminds me of the mother out Christmas shopping with her little girl who passed by a Nativity Scene in a department store window. Catching a glimpse of the beautiful scene the child grabbed the mother’s hand and exclaimed,  “Mama! Mama! Please let me stop for a minute to look at Jesus!” But the mother quickly pulled the little girl away and said, “We don’t have time for that, it’s Christmas!”

Pastor and Evangelist Greg Laurie said, “A friend of mine told me about his young son who prayed, ‘Lord, thank you for sending your only FORGOTTEN Son, Jesus.’ He meant to say “begotten,” of course, but “forgotten” may be more accurate for many today!”  

Have we, as a nation, really forgotten why Jesus came? Why did God become flesh to live among us for a time?

Charles Wesley, in his hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”—one of the most beautiful and powerful Christmas hymns ever written, gives us the answer. The whole hymn is beautiful but I’d like to focus on just the third stanza—

“Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun 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 us from the earth, Born to give us second birth.”

“Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!”

This line was taken from Isaiah 9:6-7:

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

  • “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” This speaks of His first coming—His incarnation.
  • “And the government will be upon His shoulder.” This speaks of His second coming—His coronation.
  • “And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” These are the titles of the King—His identification.
  • “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.” These are the timeless truths of His kingdom—His administration.

“Hail the Sun of Righteousness!”

This comes out of Malachi:

“But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings…” (Malachi 4:2)

When people read this verse and how it refers to Jesus as “the Sun” and not the “Son of Righteousness” they wonder if it’s not a misspelling.

It’s no mistake because in Ps.84:11 it says, “For the Lord God is a sun…”

In Malachi 4 it refers to Jesus as the “Sun of Righteousness” because it is likening His return to establish His Kingdom—a Kingdom of true righteousness to the dawning of a new day.

Paul had this in mind when he said:

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night [of man’s rebellion] is far spent, the day [of Christ’s reign] is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)

“Light and life to all He brings”

John 1:4 (NKJV) 
 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John 8:12 (NKJV) 
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

In the Scriptures “light” and “darkness” are used quite often as metaphors.  “Light” is often used in the Scriptures to represent—spiritual truth, holiness, moral purity and obedience toward God.  “Darkness” is often used in the Scriptures to represent—spiritual error, evil, moral impurity and rebellion against God.

Jesus is “the Light,” not merely a light (one among many ‘lights’ or sources of truth) He is the only Light, “the true Light” (John 1:9), Who alone can light the sinner’s way back to God.

When Jesus said, “Whoever follows Me…”, He meant “Whoever believes in and obeys Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”—He was speaking of salvation.  Coming to Christ for salvation results in a different kind of life. A believer will never walk in darkness, that is, he will not remain or live any longer in the realm of evil and ignorance.

John 12:46 (NKJV) 
I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide [remain] in darkness.

1 John 1:6-7 (NKJV) 
If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

“Risen with healing in His wings”

This takes us back to Malachi:

“But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings…” (Malachi 4:2)

Many commentators believe the “wings” mentioned here refer to the “rays” of the sun which points to Jesus being the “Sun of Righteousness.” The word “healing” in the Hebrew could also mean ‘restoration’.

When Jesus brings the dawn of the new day of the Kingdom of God to the earth it will be a time of restoration and healing—not just for mankind but also for the earth itself—

Isaiah 35:5-6 (NKJV) 
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.  Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert…[and they will blossom like a rose]

“Mild He lays His glory by”

 This is what the theologians call the ‘kenosis’. It speaks of Jesus emptying Himself of His divine rights and glory so that he might become a man—Jesus was ‘mild’ or humble to do this.

Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT) 
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

“Born that man no more may die”

This concept Charles Wesley no doubt took from passages like John 11:25-26 where Jesus said to Martha:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die…”

In saying this Jesus wasn’t implying that once a person puts their faith in Him for salvation they would never die physically; He simply meant that their spirit (the real person) would never die eternally in the Lake of Fire (Hell) which is called “the second death” in Rev.20:14.

“Born to raise the sons of earth”

The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is found in numerous verses. Two of the classic New Testament passages would be:

1 Corinthians 15:50-54 (NKJV) 
 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed– in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

John 5:28-29 (NKJV) 
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead—Rev.20

“Born to give them second birth”

Of course this comes out of John 3 where Jesus shared with a Pharisee named Nicodemus that entrance into heaven requires two births—one physical and the other spiritual.

John 3:3-6 (NKJV) 
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

The new birth (the second birth) would be impossible if Jesus had not been born. This, in fact, was the whole purpose of the incarnation and the reason we celebrate Christmas. It’s a celebration of God’s incredible gift to mankind:

John 3:16 (NKJV) 
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.


The devil, who is the “god of this present evil age”, has been working very hard over the last century or so to turn reality into fantasy and fantasy into reality—what do I mean?

If you’ve gone to Macy’s on State Street in downtown Chicago to look at the windows you saw that the theme this year (2010) is “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus.”  That theme, of course, was borrowed from the title of one of the most famous editorials in American history.  It was written by Francis Church and first appeared in the New York Sun newspaper in 1897.

The editorial was written by Church, the son of a Baptist minister, in response to a letter he received from a little girl named Virginia O’Hanlon: 

Virginia wrote, “Dear EditorI am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”

Francis Church, the editor wrote back:

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds…Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus!…Not believe in Santa Claus?! You might as well not believe in fairies…

Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there…[even so just because you’ve never seen Santa Claus doesn’t mean he’s not real either]…No Santa Claus! Thank God He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Look, I’m sure many people back then applauded Mr. Church’s attempt to bolster a little girl’s belief in Santa Claus—I mean every kid needs to believe in Santa Claus don’t they?—DO THEY!  What’s more important—reinforcing a child’s faith in Santa Claus or in Jesus Christ?

More and more the world is saying that Christmas, which celebrates the incarnation, is a myth while fairy tales like Santa Claus, elves and reindeer are being promoted to children as fact. This question should never have been passed off to a secular newspaper to answer.

Mr. O’Hanlon, Virginia’s father, should have sat his little girl down and told her the truth—but he didn’t. And so what Mr. Church, a pastor’s son, should have said was:

“No, Virginia there is no Santa Claus—however I’ve got good news there lives Someone much better! His birth was first announced by an angel God sent to a group of shepherds two thousand years ago who were watching over their flocks one night in the fields outside a little town called Bethlehem. When suddenly the angel appeared in the sky like a bright shining star and said,  ‘I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people! For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior Who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you, you will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.’(Luke 2:8-14)

And so Virginia there is no Santa Claus to bring you little gifts, but there is a Savior, Jesus the Christ, Who gave to you and me and to all mankind the greatest gift of all—the gift of eternal life! He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary (and hopeless I might add) would be the world be if there were no Jesus Christ! Thank God He lives and lives forever! A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of His people.”

And so to all the “Virginias” in the world—to all children everywhere both young and old—Merry Christmas!!

May the Lord richly bless you this Christmas season as you walk with Him day by day.

Pastor Phil