Thursday, December 22, 2011

the herald angel

I recently rediscovered one of my favorite Christmas hymns in the form of a reimagination by the terrific group Seabird. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is a staple of any Christmas album or church service but this version is special because although it still retains its reverent hymnlike nature, it introduces a little more up-tempo "heralding" of Christ's birth. After all, this is the gospel--the good news that God has come to live among humans in the form of a man born from the womb of Mary--the announcing that there is now no longer any separation between God and His creation. Though there was once enmity and war, there is now the promise of peace eternal. There will be no more struggle, no more mourning or tears or hate or war, only "God and sinners reconciled."
Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
It sometimes seems that since creation itself began, it has exploded with violence. The violence we do to each other, both the ones we love and the ones we leave out. But God sifts through the struggle and doesn't blot out our transgressions. He shows up among them. He leaves the throne of Heaven, the eternal unchanging perfect synergy of the Trinity to introduce His creation to how they have been created. We are to join Him in His mission of reconciliation. We are co-reconcilers with Christ as this earth, this life was our gift from Him. Though we have done our best to sully and denigrate what we have been given, God is patient. He is relentless. And even when our faith does not lie in Him, His faith lies in us.
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!"
This is the essence of what the herald angels have come to announce. The fact that we refer to them as "herald" shows just how special they are. They have one job. To proclaim, to announce, to declare that life as we know has been forever changed. A new reality has taken hold. In the midst of our despair, of our struggle, of our hatred and denial... springs Hope.
Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
A herald is an official messenger of news. A courier. A forerunner. A precursor. A harbinger. Harbinger is an interesting word in itself. Normally, there are "harbingers of death" or "harbingers of evil" or "harbingers of danger." But I think harbingers have gotten a bad rap. I don't think it is the danger or death or evil that turns a simple messenger into a harbinger. It is the gravity of the message they carry. And there nothing heavier than the truth weighting down the announcement of the gospel.

Christmas itself comes in the dead of winter. Just days after the longest night of the year in fact. It is literally never more dark than it is at Christmastime. I don't know if that is a coincidence or not but it is part of what I love so much about this season. Because in this time of darkness and cold and dreariness steps in the most joyful, special time of the year. And instead of avoiding at all costs this intemperate time of year, we welcome it. We look forward to it. I'd have a hard time finding a better metaphor for Christ's arrival than the season in which it comes. The God who shames the wise and uplifts the foolish has us looking forward to the darkest and most difficult time of the year because of the hope it symbolizes.
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
You see, Christ isn't just announced by the herald angels. He Himself is a type of herald angel. Because he is the second Adam, the firstfruits of the gospel. He is the precursor of life itself and yet alive and present forever. Before anything was, He was. And so He is the promise, the hope in human form. At our darkest moment, God doesn't bring us comfort, he doesn't relieve our suffering, he doesn't even change the weather. In our bleakest moment, God steps into our lives Himself. He comes for us. And He promises us that this is the rhthym of life. This is the pattern, the DNA of life lived in intimacy with God. When we are weak, He is strong. When we are downtrodden, He is hopeful. When we have lost, He has won on our behalf.
Not always in the way we would expect. Not with a powerful Kingdom trampling all others under His feet. Not with trumpets and revelry and pomp. But on a quiet, still night. With a simple miracle. Birth. 
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
Sometimes it takes fresh ears to hear an old song. Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see an old truth. Few will herald but all will know. Christ is born in Bethlehem. And Hope is born in us.