Christmas announces His lordship over all creation. His life, obedience, death, and resurrection ensure that the darkness will end, and that He is the light that comes into the world and reveals the truth about everything. In this and every season, there is hope. This invites us to sing along and share these truths with a world in darkness.
Recently, my colleague Kasey Leander sat down with Dr. Andrew Newell of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, to discuss the Christmas hymn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Originally published in 1739, the song is a treasure of orthodox Christology, something just as needed today as it was in the 18th century.
As Newell explained, England at that time was beset with theological challenges. After a profound cultural upheaval during the previous century, the Church of England had replaced much of its theological vigor with a more stagnant faith, one that de-emphasized doctrine in favor of “reasonable religion,” outward works, and Enlightenment thinking. Largely missing was a commitment to the notion that Christianity was actually true, and thus required of Christians personal conviction, repentance, and transformation.
Likewise, heresies such as Arianism, the false religion centered around the idea that Jesus was not God incarnate but merely a created being, had gained new traction. In fact, Charles Wesley thought Arianism a big enough threat to directly counter, when he compared it to the “wormwood” of Revelation 8:10-11:
How has he shed his baleful power,
Wasted the earth, and peopled hell,
While millions drink the Arian lie
And yet, in the midst of this bleak scene, revival was stirring, which could be seen in central Europe among the Moravian Christians, across the Atlantic with Jonathan Edwards, and at Oxford University in the “Holy Club” founded by George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, and others. In England, members of the Holy Club preached, wrote hymns, and published sermons. When church doors were closed on them, they met in open fields.