Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Meditation

In the spirit of Christmas, here is a beautiful yet little known and infrequently sung Christmas carol that depicts the vast humility of the incarnation:
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor
All for love’s sake becamest poor.

Thou who are God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest Man;
Stopping so low, but sinners raising
Heav’nward by Thine eternal plan.
Thou who are God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest Man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Savior and King, we worship Thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling
Make us what Thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love, beyond all telling,
Savior and King, we worship Thee.

(I tried to find an audio link, but I only found one not-very-good rendition on YouTube. Sorry about that.)*

This hymn comes from II Corinthians 8:9, where Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

At this time of year, we sing about a baby born in a stable, laid in a manger, on a silent, holy night. Our view of this baby, of Jesus, is what makes us Christian. Do we understand this incarnation of the only begotten Son of God? Do we often consider what the incarnation meant to Jesus—and what it means to us? What does it mean when we sing about the birth of a baby in the little town of Bethlehem?

It means that Jesus chose to cloak his glorious deity in the humbleness of humanity. Jesus, the exalted one, the king above all kings, the Lord of all Lords—shed his majesty to become a man. Jesus, who is called Immanuel, which means “God is with us,” willfully limited his limitless power and glory to come to the earth as a human child. This is the incarnation. This is humility. This is love.

Another not-very-well-know Christmas hymn reminds us that

Empty he came as a man to our race
Equal with God, yet forsaking his place.
Humbly he served in our world.
Humbly he served in our world.

This hymn is based on Philippians 2:5-8:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,
Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
But made himself nothing,
Taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance a man,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death—
Even death on a cross.

Jesus, who had every reason not to be humble, in humility took the form of a man. Not an emperor, or a king, or a president—but a poor and uneducated carpenter, a member of an oppressed minority.

Jesus, who is almighty God, gave up the prerogatives of his Godhead, and said, “I can do nothing of myself.”

Jesus dwelled in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and yet he chose to come to earth as a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He said of himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart.”

Jesus, who had every right to feel and act superior, in his interactions with other people never did so. In humility Jesus respected all people, never claiming his divine rights, but always living in dependence on God the Father.”

This Christmas, join me in focusing on the humility of the incarnation—on what that meant to Jesus, and what it means to us. Let’s say with John the Baptist, “He must become greater, and I must become less.”

[*Updated: I found an a capella performance of the French version of the hymn here.]

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