Are there any more amazing words than that? We sing these words of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (TLH 94) every year. Those words might roll off our tongues with hardly a thought. In fact, many secular choirs sing this famous hymn of Charles Wesley at this time of year without even pausing to wonder what “God and sinners reconciled!” actually means.
Could there be two more polar opposites than the holy God and wretched sinners? Could there be any more irreconcilable differences? It would be an astonishing thing that would grab the attention of the whole world if North and South Korea could be reconciled and find peace with each other. It would make your jaw drop in amazement if a serial killer would become best friends with the families of his victims.
Could irreverent rebellious creatures, who mock and blaspheme the God Who created them and revel in everything God forbids, be reconciled to the God Whom they despise? Should God, Who cannot tolerate sin and Who must punish every sin—yes, the God Who destroyed the entire world in a flood because of the wickedness of mankind—be reconciled to the sinners who hated Him and even crucified His own Son? That would the news of all the ages.
And indeed it is! There is no more astonishing or more wonderful news than this, “God and sinners reconciled.” That is what we celebrate in this Christmas season. Christmas, of course, is just the beginning; and what a beginning it was. Four millennia of promises began to be fulfilled when Christ was born in Bethlehem.
The eternal Creator of all things became one of His creatures. The almighty God was born as a helpless little baby. The eternal, immortal Lord took on our mortal flesh and blood. Why? “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) He came to do what we failed to do and could not do—live a truly God-pleasing life in absolutely everything. He came to do the unthinkable—bear the wrath of God against our sins. God was punished for the sins His people commit against Him. All so that we could be reconciled to Him; made at peace with God, to live with Him without fear.
No wonder the angel hosts sang of that amazing truth, “Glory to the newborn King. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” This is what we celebrate in the weeks to come. Look into the manger once again. Look there with new wonder and amazement: “Veiled in flesh the God-head see, Hail the incarnate Deity. Pleased as Man with man to dwell; Jesus our Immanuel.”
Christmas may be just the beginning, but where God begins, it is as good as done. Christ has fulfilled all that He came to do. “It is finished!” (John 19:13) We sinners have been reconciled to God. Therefore we will also be glorified with Him in heaven. So we sing: “Hail, the heav’nly Prince of Peace! Hail, the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild He leaves His throne on high, Born that man no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth; Born to give them second birth.”
May we truly “Join the triumph of the skies; with th’ angelic host proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’ Hark! the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King!’”
David Reim is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Vernon, British Columbia.