Hark the Herald Angels Sing - Becoming New Creations in Christ

How many of us pay close attention to the Christmas Carols we sing this time of year? You won’t hear so many traditional religious ones on the radio, but when you do, and if they sing through the second and third verses, you can hear some deep theology and beautiful teachings of our Christian faith. Of course, many of the traditional Christmas carols were hymns that were sung in churches, so they proclaim the essential meaning of Christmas.

For example, in the well known carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” we hear in one of its verses

Hail! the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail! the Son 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 the sons of earth, born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King”

Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings… Born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.

Here is the “good news of great joy” which Christmas proclaims! Christ has entered into our fallen world to bring “light and life, healing, victory over death, and raising us up into His heavenly kingdom through our second birth!”

This is a reminder that we don’t simply celebrate the birth of a baby born in Bethlehem, but we celebrate the entrance of God into our fallen and darkened world! We are not only NOT ALONE, but we are BEING RAISED UP to live under God’s new reign on earth. As St. Athanasios the Great summarized in his classic writing On the Incarnation – “God became human so that humans can become divine.” And this is what I want to focus on today – living under God’s new reign on earth and becoming more and more Christ-like!

Living under God’s reign and becoming Christ-like implies a life inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It’s a life full of meaning and purpose, a life full of grace and love, a life full of mercy and peace – a life filled with God’s presence at all times.

Living under God’s reign and becoming Christ-like means living according to God’s will. And what does it mean to live according to God’s will? St. Paul gives us a clear glimpse in his letter today to the Colossians. “If you were raised with Christ, then seek those things which are above … do not set your mind on earthly things… Put to death sexual impurity, uncleanness, evil passions and desire, covetousness, idolatry, anger, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth, and lying.” (Colossians 3:1-8)

Accepting the “good news of great joy” which Christmas brings entails putting off our old, fallen nature. Listen to the temptations which Apostle Paul addresses to the first century Christians. They don’t sound too different than the temptations that assail us today – sexual temptations and impurities, self-centered passions, envious desires to have what others have, creating idols and gods out of worldly things, filthy language coming out of our mouths, and the list could go on. With all the progress in technology and life, the temptations of the human heart have stayed the same 2000 years later. Two millennia of progress haven’t changed the fact that being raised up by God entails living with a different spirit than that of the world.

In contrast to putting off our old nature, St. Paul also shows us what it means to put on Christ and to allow Him to raise us up. He advised, “Put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him… Put on tender mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiving one another and above all loving one another. Let the peace of God rule in your hearts. Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus… Always let your speech be with grace.” (Colossians 3:9-17)

When we live in Christ, under His reign, our lives will automatically reflect His Spirit of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, forgiveness, peace, gratitude, and above all love! This is living with the Christmas spirit – the Christ-like spirit.

Again I repeat St. Athanasios’ summary of the incarnation of Christ, the putting on of human flesh of God: God became human, so that humans could become divine, god-like! This is the potential we come to understand clearly through the events of Christmas and the life of Jesus Christ. And St. Paul describes this divine life so succinctly and beautifully!

Today, let us go home reflecting on our own lives and asking ourselves what others see in us. Do they often see our fallen nature – sexual temptations and impurities, self-centered passions, envious desires, worship of worldly idols, and filthy language – or do they see the fruits of a new life in Christ - mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, forgiveness, peace, gratitude, and above all love.

May we all enter more fully into the Christmas spirit by not only singing the traditional carols, but reflecting on the theology and lessons they offer us.

Hail! the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail! the Son 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 the sons of earth, born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King.”
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