I love singing Christmas carols and Christmas songs. Maybe you do too. A couple weeks ago I was at a Christmas party, and we sang a couple Christmas songs together and I noticed that as the songs got going people just lit up and joined right in. If you had to make a choice, what would you say is your favorite Christmas song or Christmas carol?
A little earlier in the service we sang the song “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” It says:
Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King"
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled
Joyful all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
There are few Christmas hymns that are so jam-packed with good theology and biblical truth while also being so singable and full of joy as “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
That phrase, “Glory to the newborn king,” is so rich in meaning. But that meaning is twofold. First, Jesus comes to bring us his glory. And second, we, in return, bring our glory echoing back to him.
We bring glory to Jesus the newborn King because the newborn King first brings glory to us.
The Newborn Kings Brings Us Glory
(Read Matt. 1:25)
We heard earlier of the birth of Jesus. We’re told that Mary gave birth to a Son and Joseph gave him the name Jesus.
(Read Matt. 2:2)
Later, when the Maji from the east arrive, they say they have come, following a star, to find a newborn king that they might worship him.
There is a newborn King who comes to bring us his glory.
Now, there are a lot of different kingdoms on earth. There are great kingdoms of the past and there are great kingdoms of the present. There will even be kingdoms of the future that we have not yet encountered.
But Jesus brings a different sort of kingdom. He comes to bring God’s kingdom. At the beginning of his preaching and miracle-working ministry, Jesus declares:
“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
This newborn King brings a new sort of kingdom that calls us to repent, which literally means “turn around” or “do a 180,” and embrace the good news. Why is this new kingdom a “good news” kind of kingdom? Because it reveals the glory of God.
All through the Bible there are glimpses of glory, specifically the glory of God. What is “glory”? Well, it is the visible radiance of the being of God—God’s beauty or majesty—his goodness and greatness unveiled to us.
Jesus, this newborn King, has come to bring God’s kingdom and reveal to us God’s glory—his majesty, his beauty, his goodness, his greatness.
As the early Christian leader Paul writes in Colossians 1:15:
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Col. 1:15)
And this newborn King, Jesus, brings this glory close to us, right where we live in our everyday lives. Hear it again:
“‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matt. 1:23)
God with us. His glory brought to us. Not just to a select few of highly regarded and well-groomed people, but to all of us.
Yes, I know we all tried to get dressed up for this Christmas Eve service, but deep down we all know we’re a rag-tag bunch of rough & tumble people who need God to intervene in our lives.
We may be special or stand out for one reason or another that our mother enjoys, but Jesus doesn’t base his decision to bring glory to us on that sort of thing. He brings his glory to anyone who wants a taste of salvation’s savor; to anyone who longs to behold God’s beauty; to anyone, no matter how apparently undeserving, who wants to join the shepherds and the wise men at the manger in worship.
Ordinary people—Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, you, and me—we all can experience the glory of God that the newborn King Jesus brings to us.
We Bring Glory to the Newborn King
But the second half of the great truth of Christmas is that we have the privilege of echoing back glory to that newborn King.
Maybe you already know that an echo is sound bouncing back to us from a hard surface. It’s one thing to experience an echo in the shower where your singing never sounded so good, but it’s an entirely different thing to hear an echo bounce back over a tremendous distance in the perfect environment, such as a canyon or rock face near water. Or even in a built environment, such as the Hamilton Mausoleum in Scotland, that will sustain echoes of 15 seconds before they fade from our ear.
An echo is not the original sound, but it does replay or return the sound that originally was released.
Just as sound released in the right environment brings forth an echo in response, so God’s glory in Jesus Christ searches for a right environment in human lives bringing forth echoes of glory in response.
We should echo back, giving glory to the newborn King who first gifts us with a revelation of God’s glory.
An early church leader, Irenaeus of Lyons, once write that “The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and the life of humanity consists in beholding God” (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 20, Section 7).
We receive the glory of God—his beauty and majesty, his goodness and greatness—into our lives through faith in Jesus and we bring glory to God by living in response to him today and all our days. Our lives are intended to be an echo.
So how do we echo back glory to Jesus?
First, we can take seriously the glory revealed in Jesus. It’s all about him. We can live with our eyes fixed on him—knowing him more, searching the Bible to better understand him, and digging deeper into a real, transformational relationship with him.
Second, we can respond with our hearts and our lives to Jesus. We can take a step of faith today with him, perhaps for the very first time. We can choose to orient our whole way of living around Jesus and his teaching.
I would like to urge you to take some time to consider your response to God right now. No one else can become an echo for you. Only you can respond to God.
In the late 19th century, Christina Rosetti wrote a poem that was later turned into a song known as “In the Bleak Midwinter.” The poem traces the incarnation of Jesus, reflecting on the wonders of him leaving the Father’s presence to enter into our earthly realities.
It concludes with a final stanza of self-reflection upon what gift we could possibly give in return for the marvelous gift of God’s glory revealed in Jesus. As we conclude tonight, I cannot think of better words for us to ponder:
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.
May we go, singing a song to the God of our salvation.
May we sing of his mighty deeds and his glory.
May our voices join the heavenly chorus, exclaiming: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth."
May we sing of God's salvation from day to day.
For Jesus Christ, our Savior, Immanuel has come!
And may the blessing of God Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be upon us all. Amen.
Have a Merry Christmas!
Matt Erickson serves as the Senior Pastor of Eastbrook Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.