We have come to our final post in this mini advent series, looking at some of the carols we sing at Christmas. So far, we have seen Jesus as Emmanuel, entering into history at just the right time to ransom and release His people from the captivity and tyranny of sin. Then we saw more of the character and qualifications of this Jesus Who was born in Bethlehem to fulfill all of God’s promises to His own. He is truly God, but has joined Himself to us by becoming also truly and fully man, which He had to be to rescue us. Lastly, we saw that His coming and His birth over 2000 years ago make possible a greater and more glorious birth in the hearts of His people, and the hope of a yet more glorious second coming of Emmanuel.
This week, we want to look at the well-known carol, “O come, all ye faithful”:
O come, all ye faithful,
joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.
God of God,
Light of Light;
lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
begotten, not created;
Sing, choirs of angels,
sing in exultation,
sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above;
Glory to God
in the highest;
Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
born this happy morning:
Jesus, to thee be all glory giv’n;
Word of the Father,
late in flesh appearing;
Originally written in Latin as “Adeste Fidelis” (most likely by John Francis Wade in the mid 18th century) the best known English translation was made by Frederick Oakley in 1852. The hymn strikes a tone of jubilant exaltation at the coming of the Savior, and summons all who believe to join in the celebration.
What is really interesting, though, is that the first and second verses each remind us of the extraordinary paradoxes of the birth of Jesus:
In the first verse, we are told that the One Who was born is the rightful King of angels, and we are invited to come to witness this remarkable event. Where should we come? Surely to a magnificent palace in the greatest city of the day? Not at all! Rather, it seems we have to go to Bethlehem!
The Magi who came from the east to welcome and worship Jesus knew he was a king. In order to find Him, they had the help of a heavenly GPS system – a supernatural star! Naturally, they went first to Jerusalem to ask about the birth of the “king of the Jews” (Matt 2:2). We don’t read that they were at all surprised when they subsequently left there, following the star as it led them to a tiny, tiny village to see the newborn king. Seeing Bethlehem, you and I might have wondered whether the Divine navigation system had developed a fault.
This town seems to have had a population of less than 300 adult male taxpayers early in the 15th century. Of course, the numbers increased significantly (and temporarily) at the time of Jesus’ birth because of the census that required those of the house of David (as Joseph was) to go to their ancestral cities to be registered. But even so, Bethlehem was hardly a blip on the radar. Hundreds of years before, Micah the prophet (Micah 5:2) foretold the birth of Jesus in this place, saying under God’s inspiration that it was “too little to be among the clans of Judah”.
Ever heard of Winn, Michigan? Its population today is less than 200. If something happened there tomorrow that turned out to be a pivotal point in the history of the whole universe, that would be about as unlikely to us as what took place in Bethlehem must have seemed when Jesus was born! This has to be some kind of mistake, doesn’t it? No. God doesn’t make mistakes. The One to be born as everlasting King had to be descended from the great king, David, so it was necessary that David’s greater Son would arrive on earth in David’s hometown – Bethlehem. So it was that the promised Savior entered the world almost unnoticed with the mission to change the history of all creation, breaking the curse of sin and freeing His people from spiritual slavery and death.
In the second verse is an even more astonishing paradox. The title “king of angels” mentioned in verse one hints that this Person is very great and very special. Verse 2 fully reveals exactly Who He is – God of God and light of light. This is fully and utterly the Son God, begotten from the Father but uncreated. The very one Who at the beginning of creation said “let there be light” and it sprang into existence! Indeed, the One Who not only “gave the light its birth” but Who IS light (1 John 1:5)! The Creator enters His own creation in created human flesh! The infinite, eternal, unchangeable, all-knowing, everywhere-present, all-powerful God!! If the Bible didn’t make this unmistakably clear, it would be incredible.
But it is even more amazing as we realize that He was born as a helpless baby, formed in the womb of a teenage girl. It goes without saying that He could have chosen any parents He wanted (provided they were descended from David), but He chose Mary – a lowly woman of exceptional humility and submission before God. He had to be born of a virgin, too, for at least two reasons: first, so as to remain separate from sin since he was born to die for the sins of His people and that sacrifice could only be effective if He had no sin of His own to die for; and second, because in the original gospel promise (Gen 3:15), God told the serpent that it was going to be the seed of the woman who would crush his head (not the seed of the man, so apparently pointing to a virgin birth). And as the hymn records, occupying the womb of Mary in obedience to His Father was not something He abhorred, but gladly submitted to.
So the King of kings, God Himself, is born as a helpless baby to a teenage woman in an insignificant town in the middle of nowhere, news of which is announced to a few shepherds in a nearby field. The only others who realized something phenomenal had happened were some wise men from very far away in the east. God Most High seems to have sought the most lowly way to enter His own world!
It is always like this with our God. Think of the scene in heaven, when no-one worthy can be found to open the scroll of God and break its seals (which many think is emblematic of being able to carry out the eternal purposes of God) and John begins to weep inconsolably, until one of the elders comforts him with these words:
Revelation 5:5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
What a relief! John looks to see where this lion, this conquering, worthy king might be. What does he see?
Revelation 5:6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…”
The Lion of Judah was born in Bethlehem to become the Lamb of Calvary, crushing the serpent’s head and breaking the curse of sin and death!
And in another paradox, who were these people that Jesus came to die for? Rich? Famous? Intelligent? Strong? Those of Noble birth? Those the world might think of as being worth saving? On the contrary! What does Paul say?
1 Corinthians 1:26–31 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
This is our God! Often paradoxical and doing the unexpected. Always dismissing those talents and characteristics that the world prizes highly and always pursuing that which will lead to His own glory and the very best for His people!
In the light of these things, I hope our hearts are warmed! As we hear the urgent and compelling invitation in this hymn to worship, adore and give glory to Christ the Lord, the King of angels, the One Who is God of God, Light of Light and the Word of the Father, may we join our voices with the heavenly host to praise Him with our whole beings!