I was originally intending to write a little light-hearted ‘review’ of some Christmas Carol lyrics here, but somewhat ran out of steam. Instead, I just wanted to post one or two thoughts about the Christmas Carols which many people (in this country at least) sing year on year. We’ve been to a carol service this evening at Christ Church, Cockfosters which was absolutely packed out – I think this goes to show that the popularity of the carol service is enduring and isn’t going to go away any time soon!
I was struck as we sang ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ – not a carol I’m a massive fan of (it goes on a bit…) – but one of the verses is:
Not in that poor lowly stable,
with the oxen standing round,
we shall see him; but in heaven,
set at God’s right hand on high;
when like stars his children crowned,
all in white shall wait around.
What struck me anew1 was the last line, the clear allusion to Revelation 7: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands … These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
As Richard James (vicar of Christ Church) said in his talk this evening, the Cross hangs over the stable: you can’t have one without the other. It just struck me in a new way that Christ’s incarnation is the most wondrous thing that’s ever happened – the fact that he came down, incarnate as ‘flesh’ – as a man – but that in dying and rising again he defeated death, and in the words of Te Deum ‘opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers’.
I think, particularly in evangelical circles, we’re too keen to brush over the sheer wonder of it all. At Christmas we rightly sing and praise God for the fact that he came as an ordinary human baby, and yet – in the words of ‘Hark the Herald Ages Sing’ ‘Veiled in flesh the Godhead see’: Christ Jesus – the image of the invisible God, by whom and for whom all things were created – there as a baby, helpless in his mother’s arms. I think perhaps in theological circles it’s easy to say those words without ever stepping back and thinking … “wow. this is absolutely mind-blowing.” And yet, this man died on a cross for us and for our salvation.
This Christmas I’ve been struck by Emmanuel ‘God With Us’ – this is something I’m going to be reflecting on over the next few days and weeks. How amazing it is that God was incarnate among us. How incredible it is that he died for us, and how awesome that one day those who trust in him will be with him, washed in the blood of the lamb, singing ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’. Soli deo gloria.
1 I think the reason it struck me anew was that the verse is different in Mission Praise, looks like it’s been altered from the original.