Merry Christmas, Reader! It’s technically Christmas even though I haven’t slept yet, and I’m super excited and running off of the energy of how awesome my church is at Christmas and incredibly much I love Christmas and yes, you can throw all of the Elf references at me you want (although my excitement skews in a much different direction).
So what better hymn to bridge Advent and Christmas? Why, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, of course! It has the added bonus of lyrics by Charles Wesley, one of the founding brothers of my denomination (United Methodist) and author of literally over 6,000 hymns. Of course, he originally wanted it slow and stately, which isn’t my cup of tea for this song. It’s a whole song of joy that Christ is finally born—get your party on, y’all.
In case I haven’t mentioned it before, Christmas is my favorite holiday. It always has been, actually, though for different reasons throughout my life. But nowadays, I love Christmas to pieces because it is overflowing with joy and hope and starlight. This song has it: these angels are singing that “God and sinners [are] reconciled.” Reconciled! We are no longer set apart from God!
Not super into atonement theory? Okay; how about “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see / Hail the incarnate Deity”? I love that one of the things people found super weird about Christianity in the early days was that a god would be stupid enough to trap himself in a human body—especially when he then got killed for it. That’s not to say that there aren’t sacrifice narratives in other early religions (there’re a lot of them, actually), but it is to say that God became human, from the squalling infant who couldn’t even focus on images in the cradle to the bleeding Man who refused to step outside of the mortal process until He broke it in half.
Still not seeing the joy? Then try this on: “Light and life to all He brings / Ris’n with healing in His wings.”
Reader, you can’t possibly tell me with a straight face that you aren’t excited about the possibility of light, life, and healing.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me; this isn’t my attempting to convert you to Christianity (although if you want to have that conversation, please know that I AM SO TOTALLY DOWN FOR IT and would welcome your questions and conversation most heartily). It is, however, my attempting to show you why I danced my way across the chancel (stage) at one service tonight in front of God and everybody, and why I went to two services after having worked a full day, and why I’m still not in bed even though it’s half-past one in the morning and I have to get up in a few hours to drive to a family Christmas, and why I want you to see that joy can include happiness even if happiness is not the same as joy.
BECAUSE HOLY CROW CHRIST IS BORN. Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the hope of an end to strife! Hail the One Who was born a king even though His cradle was a manger! Hark—listen! Hwæt! (That one’s Old English, because I may as well get all my nerdery on.) The angels are singing, challenging the nations to rise joyful in triumph that God broke His own differentiations to chase after Her confused and beloved children. God tucked all of God’s Self into the form of a human baby boy; hell, God suffered puberty on our behalf. That’s some love, right there.
God came to earth and understands fully what it is to live as we live—not to drive cars as we drive or to to fear gun violence as we fear or to eat McDonald’s as we eat McDonald’s, but to love as we love and cry as we cry and hurt as we hurt and laugh as we laugh. He came to tell us that She was willing to do whatever it took to get our attention and return us to the relationship He had wanted from the very beginning when She breathed life into us and called us, called us good.
Hark, the herald (messenger) angels are singing! Do not be afraid, for they bring you tidings of great, deep, and abiding joy. Merry, merry Christmas.
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 2:13-14, KJV)