By Hal Knight
During the Christmas season congregations everywhere in America will be singing Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” It is a familiar hymn with a profound message. Not only does it celebrate the birth of Jesus, it also offers praise for who this baby is, why he was born, and what through coming into the world he has accomplished.
Who is this infant born to humble parents in a stable? The hymn cannot exclaim it enough: “newborn King,” “everlasting Lord,” “Prince of Peace,” “Sun of Righteousness.” This is a royal birth, yet one that turns our usual ideal of royalty on its head.
Jesus will continue to do that. He will teach generosity and love of enemies, forgive sins, heal the sick, and cast out demons. He will love the poor, touch lepers, speak to women, welcome children, and even extend his compassion to Samaritans and Gentiles, all in direct opposition to the norms of his society. His power in the end is not exercised by the sword but on a cross. This is the nature of his kingdom, and his resurrection ensures that it is indeed everlasting. But the hymn says something more:
Vieled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
We see in Jesus not only a King or Lord of a radically different kingdom, but the character of God. For in Jesus we meet a God who “lays his glory by,” becoming one of us, living among us, and because he is risen and alive continues to be “our Emmanuel,” God with us. Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, and all he said and did (and continues to say and do) manifests the very nature of the God who is love.
Why does God “lay his glory by” and dwell with us in the flesh? The very first verse says he came to reconcile “God and sinners,” providing not only for forgiveness of sins but through that making possible a new relationship with God. This lays the foundation for the heart of why God comes to us in Jesus, found in verse three: he brings “light and life” to all in that he is “born that we no more may die” and “born to give us second birth.” Jesus comes so that we may receive a new birth, a new life in Christ, in which we love as Christ loved. Even death cannot take this new life from us, for in his resurrection Jesus conquers death. We receive new life now, but live it eternally.
Jesus reveals to us not only the nature of God, but what it means for us to be fully human, to truly live as persons created in the image of God. Jesus reveals this life and through his life, death and resurrection we are enabled to receive it and become agents of God’s renewing love in the world.
It is for this we join the angels in giving “Glory to new new-born King!”