The Red Back Hymnal

The CHURCH HYMNAL:  “Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing”

Bill Lloyd
Bill Lloyd

Many years ago, a song leader – in a church where my parents once attended – stopped the choir during a Sunday service to give cheerful and encouraging words to the congregation.  Among other things, he told of “that good melancholy feeling” one gets when singing that song. 

Just then, a dear sister in Christ leaned over to another lady seated next to her and whispered, “Why, ‘melancholy’ isn’t a happy feeling at all.  It speaks of sadness.  Doesn’t he remember the song we often hear Bing Crosby sing on radio, “Come to me, my melancholy baby?”
Many this time of the year will attempt to put on a façade, while if the truth were truly known, a melancholy feeling actually has hold of their life. 
Some get totally involved in the Christmas season through shopping, decorating their house ever so brightly, by listening to happy Christmas music while wrapping gifts, and even by watching Christmas movies on TV each day of the Christmas season.  Yet, their life – the real ‘them’ – knows nothing but frustration and great misery.
During the Winter of 1860-1861, Jefferson Davis began serving as interim president of the Confederate States, and a meeting of state leaders was held not long after.  It was at this time that Davis expressed great fear of the things that lie ahead.  He said, “Upon my weary heart was showered smiles, plaudits, and flowers, but beyond them I saw troubles and thorns innumerable.”  
Before the days of tollfree calling, a customer desiring to place a catalog order had to do so in person or by telephone with the local department store. I know, because I worked in a major department store catalog unit for over sixteen years of my thirty-five years with that company. 
The ordering and transaction process took a long time, for we never knew the availability of the items for nearly a week.  Therefore, it was essential for the customer to order early for any type of gift-giving.
It was just one week before Christmas in the late 1970s when a young father and his sevenyear-old son came to my desk to order a gift for the man’s wife.  After I wrote the order, I cautioned the father that since it was so close to Christmas, there was a great possibility the gift would not arrive in time.  Yet, not wishing to dishearten the father-son duo, I concluded with, “…this order will hopefully arrive here by Christmas Eve.”
The little boy overheard my words and then looked up at his father to ask, “Daddy, what does ‘hopefully’ mean?”With a glum look on his face, the father looked down at the little boy and said, Son, that means our gift for your Mother ain’t coming!”
Each day we live, we see many people around us facing hopelessness of all kind – but in them you’ll see a look of real desperation, rather than a mere disappointment that a kitchen blender may not be arriving in time for gift-giving.  
Just as this little boy didn’t know the meaning of the word hopefully,’ neither do many adults without Christ understand how financially-strapped Christians at Christmastime can still sing, “O beautiful Star of Bethlehem, Shine upon us until the glory dawn; O give us Thy light to light the way into the land of perfect day, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem shine on.
Does this mean the life of the Christian is nothing but a bed of roses (or should it be poinsettias at Christmastime?) and we’re totally excluded from the difficulties of life?  Certainly not!  Yet, the one living for Christ has in them ‘The One’ to whom they can turn; not only in the midst of a great turmoil of life, but through it all each and every day we live.
Some fifteen to twenty years ago, my doctor ordered my first stress test. I had been somewhat apprehensive about this hospital test, that is, until finishing it later that morning. I discovered that running the treadmill was extremely tiring, yet once I caught my breath afterward, I referred to it as “a piece of cake.”  
I later joked with friends that if the doctors and hospitals truly want accurate evaluations of “stress” in one’s life, they should drop the treadmill run and have all the irritating people and difficult situations most upsetting to the patient in the room in its place. That, in my opinion, would be a better “stress test.”
Nevertheless, many have become accustomed to stress at Christmastime. It is also seen throughout the year, but it seems to escalate as Christmas approaches.
Due to many financial pressures, “Christmas” has a way of upsetting many individuals.  Whether one is a blue-collar worker, whitecollar worker, unemployed, or retired, many face great depression and grave financial difficulties throughout the year. Even though they try their best to care for family, fear – and often a loss of hope – can still get a grip on them.
By December, many are already disgruntled;
By January, many are still jittery;
By February (when the Christmas bills arrive), they are fidgety;
By March, they’re in a real financial mess;
By April, they’re deeply annoyed at it all;
By May, life is miserable;
By June, they’re in a real jam;
By July, their nerves are all jangled;
By August, you’ll see in them great agitation;
By September, you’ll hear them answer friends rather shortly;
By October, they may have sudden angry outbursts;
By November, they’ll be a total nervous-wreck;
And by the next December, well, the cycle begins all over again.
There is hope, however, and encouraging words come from God’s Word, as well as from a well-known Christmas carol.  “HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING” is a song many will sing this Christmastime, despite their unhappiness with the season. 
To some, the first word of this song may sound much like someone attempting to clear their throat, but the word “HARK” actually has a meaning. It’s an Old English term that means to “listen closely” or “pay attention.”
Regarding the background of this familiar Christmas carol, my abbreviated version is this:  Charles Wesley wrote the song to begin: “Hark how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of kings…”  His friend, George Whitfield – an English evangelist – omitted the word ‘welkin’ and changed or deleted other of Wesley’s lyrics to how the song appears today.  Wesley was miffed.  Whitfield didn’t care.  Today’s version of the song, as we know it, reads:  “Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King…”    
The important thing to note, however, is what the Bible shares of that first Christmas so long ago.  Shepherds (working the night shift) were keeping watch over theirflock, when suddenly, “…the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. ~  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. ~ For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. ~  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger(Luke 2:9-12).
We then learn, “…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.”  It was then told that after the angels returned to Heaven, “…the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”
Can you imagine the mundane task the lowly shepherds had of watching the sheep late at night, only to be key persons to witness the sudden appearance of an angelic being bearing the Good News that JESUS was born?  With the appearance of that angel, that night became even brighter because of the glory of the Lord that shone was far above the brightness of the multitude of stars in the sky.
Of all the glad tidings known to man – as well as the best news the world has ever received – the words shared by the angels that night are the most joyous:  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” 
American Revolutionary history reminds us of “the shot heard around the world,” but a far greater impact was made that night long ago when the angels shared the Good News of the Birth of Jesus.  That message had to resound all the way to Heaven, as well as it being echoed into the deepest pits of hell.  “The Saviour is born! The Saviour is born! The Saviour is born!”      
No, the shepherds could not mistake that message given on the Judean hillside, for it was clear to them then, just as it is to us today.  That message was made doubly sure by words of the angel spoken to Joseph in a dream sometime before, for it was then learned:  And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
“HARK! (listen closely) the Herald Angels Sing,” for that message still echoes throughout the world today to assure mankind the Saviour can change the lives of those living without hope.  One thing for sure, any ‘song’telling of Jesus is NEVER meant to be ‘melancholy,’ but one that brings gladness.
“HARK! (listen closely) the Herald Angels Sing,” for in the angel’s song it was later told, “…the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
“HARK! (listen closely) the Herald Angels Sing,” for in years later it would be recorded, “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
While some forty-plus years have passed, and I don’t remember if the father-son duo received the blender in time for gift-giving that Christmas long ago, yet I DOknow that Jesus arrived in this wicked world at just the right time.  If you do not know Him today, this Christmas season would be the perfect time to accept Him as your Saviour, the only Giver of Life. 
“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 angelic hosts proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem.  Hark! the herald angels sing, GLORY TO THE NEWBORN KING.”
“Merry CHRISTmas, everyone!”
–– Bill 
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