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Christmas in the Carols: Angels From The Realms Of Glory

Isaiah 52:7-15

In 1858, a scientific expedition passed through what we know today as the Grand Canyon in Arizona. A young lieutenant made this entry in his official report: ’’This region is altogether valueless. After entering it, there is nothing to do but leave. It shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.”

In 1863, when Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, a newspaper editor, covering the story, wrote: “We pass over the silly remarks made by the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that a veil of oblivion should be dropped over them and they shall be no more repeated or even thought of.”

Two thousand years ago, a baby was born in a little out-of-the-way hamlet called Bethlehem. No newspapers picked up the story. In fact, if a reporter had interviewed the citizens of Bethlehem the next day, they would have declared: “Nothing significant happened here last night. It was just an ordinary night for us.”

Those three incidents are linked by a single truth: The unawareness of and the insensitivity to the significance of that to which they were exposed. History has proven those commentators to be wrong. The Grand Canyon is one of the most visited sights in America. The Gettysburg Address may be the most memorized and the most remembered address ever given. And that relatively unknown birth in Bethlehem has turned out to be the single most significant event in all of history. As the prophet Isaiah predicted: “His coming shall startle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of Him.”

That supremely significant event, together with its startling and overwhelming impact upon humankind, is captured in the Christmas carol we know as “Angels From The Realms Of Glory.” It was written by a newspaper editor named James Montgomery of Sheffield, England. A man of genuine integrity and devotion, he possessed extraordinary literary ability. In fact, he ultimately wrote more than 360 hymns. But, on Christmas Eve, 1816, he sat down and wrote this wonderful carol. In the first stanza, he invites the angels who sang at Creation to “proclaim the Messiah’s birth.” Then the invitation to “come and worship Christ the new-born king” is extended to the shepherds in verse 2, to the Wise Men in verse 3 and to Simeon and Anna in the temple in verse 4. Unfortunately, the fifth stanza is never sung, and is, for the most part, completely forgotten. Such a shame! It is the most powerful of all. It is addressed to all of us as sinful humankind and it points toward our salvation through the cross. It goes like this:

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you—breaks your chains:
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the new-born King!

Jesus Christ is not only Bethlehem’s Babe; He is also the Saviour of the world. And when we truly confront that truth in our lives, it startles us, it shuts our mouths, and it drives us to our knees.

To be sure, whenever we confront a genuine expression of sacrificial love, we are moved to awe and reverence.

Take Albert Schweitzer, for example. He was a medical doctor with two Phd. degrees besides. Yet he walked away from international fame and fabulous wealth to serve the needs of the poor and the distressed in Lambarene, Africa—all of it in the name of Jesus. On one occasion, he was scheduled to deliver some lectures at a seminary in France. The faculty there was very concerned because the students in that seminary were known to be quite insolent in their youthful arrogance, and the faculty were fearful that they would not show proper respect to Schweitzer. When Schweitzer arrived on campus, everyone was in the dining room having lunch. Schweitzer walked through the door alone, looking for someone to show him where he needed to go. When the students saw him they stood and they were silent until he was seated, so struck were they by the costliness of his sacrifice.

Or I think of Dr. Kyung Chik Han. He is the best loved and most respected Christian in all of Korea. He is the founding pastor of the Young Nak Presbyterian Church in Seoul, now the largest Presbyterian Church in the world. He was a pastor in North Korea when the communists took over. He paid an unbelievably heavy price for his faith. At last, he managed a miraculous escape to South Korea and started that great church in Seoul. He is held in such awe and reverence in Korea that…well, when I preached in that church several years ago, Dr. Han invited Trisha and me to be his guests for Sunday dinner after the five worship services. The great man, now in his eighties, lost his wife to death some years back, and so he lives alone. He said that we would walk to a restaurant some blocks away. The sidewalks of Seoul were, as usual, jammed with people. However, as we walked along, the people, when they saw it was Dr. Han, quietly stepped aside, dropped into silence, and would simply stretch out their hands and touch the edge of his coat, as if they were trying to draw some of his vast spiritual power. It was an extraordinary thing to witness, yet he, chatting amiably with us, seemed to be totally unaware of what was happening. The people of Seoul, you see, are struck silent by the power of his sacrificial life.

Yet it must be said, those are only reflections of what Jesus did. He laid aside His infinite sovereignty, and, in sacrificial love, was skewered upon a cross.

The story of Christmas, we dare not forget, started out with a star, yes, but it ended with a stab. The One who was ultimate love was crucified for all those who do not love. The One who loved even His enemies was killed for their sake and for ours. The reality of that, if you have any heart at all, has to startle you into silence and drive you to your knees in worship.

Oscar Wilde has a stinging little story called “The Birthday of the Infanta.” The Infanta was the princess of Spain—she was just a little girl. She was having a birthday party and all her friends were invited to the palace. They played games. They had a mock bullfight. Then a circus was brought in to entertain. There were tightrope walkers, jugglers, clowns, acrobats, dancing bears. Then there was a little dwarf. He was an ugly, hideous, misshapen little creature. His parents, ashamed of his ugliness, had abandoned him in the woods years before. He had managed to survive somehow. Then when he was found he was sold to the circus as an oddity. He did a dance for the Infanta. The children all laughed at him— the Infanta laughed the hardest. He misunderstood. He thought they were laughing for joy at his dancing. He was so captivated by the young princess that later on he went searching for her through the palace. He went from one vast room to another, never finding her. Then in one room, made entirely of mirrors, he stepped in and was surprised. He had never seen a mirror before, and as he looked around, he realized that there was someone else in the room with him. Across the way he saw an ugly, misshapen, deformed little man. He bowed. The ugly little man bowed back. He smiled. The other smiled. He stepped forward. The other stepped forward. Suddenly, the crushing reality dawned upon the little dwarf. He was looking at his own reflection. He had never seen himself before. Did he look like that? So hideous? So ugly? So misshapen? If that was so, then the children had been laughing at him, not with him. He dropped to his knees and began to cry. At that moment, the Infanta and her guests entered the room. When they saw him sobbing on his knees, the Infanta cried: “His dancing was funny, but his acting is funnier still.” And they all burst out laughing. Suddenly, the little man gasped and clutched his side and fell still upon the floor. The Infanta said to her chamberlain: “Make the funny little dwarf dance!” The chamberlain walked over, put his hand upon the little man’s heart and then rose up and said: “Mi Bella Princesa, he will never dance again because his heart is broken.” The Infanta scowled, pulled herself up to her full 3 1/2 feet in height, and said disdainfully: “In the future, let those who come to play with me have no hearts.”

O my friends, let us not come to Christmas with no hearts. Let us see Christmas for what it really is: the broken King coming to die for a broken world, the Great God above coming down into this hideous, ugly, misshapen world of ours. He became like us so that we might become like Him. When you see that, when you understand that, when you confront the reality of that in your life, it breaks your heart, it startles you into silence, it drives you to your knees in worship before Him. Come to this table now, come and worship—worship Christ

The new-born King.

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