For the Dual Citizens Among Us, Carol Excerpts on the Incomprehensibility of the Incarnation
Recent references to Christmas on the site have emphasized its benefits in realms ranging from cultural to redemptive; its helpfulness in improving the state of that precious location, the interior life*, has been variously extolled.
The enduring Christmas carols, taken as a whole, emphasize many aspects of Jesus’ advent and birth–prophecy revealed and fulfilled, the local manifestations of drama which occurred when the eternal covenant of redemption broke through into the space-time continuum when Quirinius was governor of Syria, the foreshadowings of a life of sacrificial obedience unto death. One of these occurs less frequently in most carols, and in our shared musings on the subject, than references to angels and a manger, but without its truth none of the other elements would even exist.
That aspect is the fact of the Incarnation itself: the eternal Son of God, the Logos, co-essential and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, while abandoning none of his Deity, was clothed with flesh, became an infant who shivered, nursed, filled his swaddling clothes with pee and poop, in order to grow to a man who would, for the joy set before him, submit himself to the indignity of death for the salvation of the elect.
Q 15. Then, what kind of mediator and redeemer must we seek?
One who is a true and righteous man and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is at the same time true God.
Q 16. Why must he be a true and righteous man?
Because God’s righteousness requires that man who has sinned should make reparation for sin, but the man who has sinned cannot pay for others.
Q 17. Why must he be at the same time true God?
So that by the power of his divinity he might bear as man the burden of God’s wrath,a and recover for us and restore to us righteousness and life.
(Heidelberg Catechism, 1563)
Though the Incarnation is an essential detail for the Christian to believe, the extremity of its juxtaposition of necessary truths will remain forever incomprehensible to finite minds. But this incomprehensibility, rather than driving us away, invites us to come, and wonder at, and worship, and proclaim, and eternally sing of, with awe and delight, Immanuel–God-with-us.
Here are a handful of carol stanzas or lines I have encountered over the years which nicely and explicitly emphasize this incomprehensible juxtaposition. Please enjoy–and share others!
God with man is now residing
(Angels, From the Realms of Glory)
Behold, the great Creator makes
himself a house of clay,
A robe of human flesh he takes
which he will wear for aye.
Hark, hark, the wise eternal Word
as a weak infant cries!
In form of servant is the Lord,
and God in cradle lies.
(Behold, the Great Creator Makes)
low lies his head with the beasts of the stall;
angels adore him in slumber reclining–
Maker, and Monarch, and Savior of all!
(Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning)
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a virgin’s womb!
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail the incarnate Deity!
(Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)
Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
when he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
a stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
(In the Bleak Mid-Winter)
the incarnate Deity,
our God contracted to a span,
incomprehensibly made man.
He laid his glory by,
he wrapped him in our clay;
unmarked by human eye,
the latent Godhead lay.
He deigns in flesh to appear,
wildest extremes to join
(Let Earth and Heaven Combine)
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting Light;
(O Little Town of Bethlehem)
God of God, Light of Light,
lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb.
(O Come, All Ye Faithful)
He came down to earth from heaven
who is God and Lord of all;
(Once in Royal David’s City)
Lo, within a manger lies
he who built the starry skies
(See, Amid the Winter’s Snow)
God himself comes down from heaven
(Sing, Oh Sing This Blessed Morn!)
The great God of heaven is come down to earth,
his mother a virgin, and sinless his birth;
the Father eternal his Father alone;
he sleeps in the manger; he reigns on the throne.
A Babe on the breast of a maiden he lies,
yet sits with the Father on high in the skies;
before him their faces the seraphim hide,
while Joseph stands waiting, unscared, by his side’
Lo! here is Emmanuel, here is the Child,
the Son that was promised to Mary so mild;
whose power and dominion shall ever increase,
the Prince that shall rule over a kingdom of peace:
The wonderful Counsellor, boundless in might,
the Father’s own image, the beam of his light;
behold him now wearing the likeness of man,
weak, helpless and speechless, in measure a span:
Oh, wonder of wonders, which none can unfold:
the Ancient of Days is an hour or two old;
the Maker of all things is made of the earth,
man is worshipped by angels, and God comes to birth:
The Word in the bliss of the Godhead remains,
yet in flesh comes to suffer the keenest of pains;
he is that he was, and for ever shall be,
but becomes that he was not, for you and for me.
(The Great God of Heaven)
But of lowly birth camest thou, Lord, on earth,
and in great humility.
(Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne)
Thou who art God beyond all praising
all for love’s sake becamest man;
stooping so low, but sinners raising
heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
(Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor)
The invisible appears on earth,
The Lord of Hosts, the God most high,
who quits his throne on earth to live,
(To Us a Child of Royal Birth)
Who is this so weak and helpless,
Child of lowly Hebrew maid,
rudely in a stable sheltered,
coldly in a manger laid?
‘Tis the Lord of all creation
(Who is This So Weak and Helpless)
Eyes that shine in the lantern’s ray
a face so small in its nest of hay,
face of a child who is born to scan
the world he made through the eyes of man:
and from that face in the final day
earth and heaven shall flee away.
Voice that rang through the courts on high
contracted now to a wordless cry,
Infant hands in a mother’s hand,
for none but Mary may understand
whose are the hands and the fingers curled
but his who fashioned and made our world;
(Child of the Stable’s Secret Birth, ©Timothy Dudley-Smith)
God is watching us now
through a baby’s eyes.
(Earth Lies Spellbound in Darkness, ©Graham Kendrick)
God comes down; he bows the sky
and shows himself our friend;
God the invisible appears!
God the blessed, the great I AM,
dwelling in this world of tears–
and Jesus is his name.
being’s source begins to be
and God himself is man!
see the Lord of earth and skies,
humbled to the dust he is
and in a manger lies.
(Glory Be to God on High)
The One in whom we live and move
in swaddling cloths lies bound.
The voice that cried, “Let there be light”,
asleep without a sound.
The One who strode among the stars
and called each one by name,
lies helpless in a mother arms
and must learn to walk again.
(What Kind of Greatness Can This Be. ©Graham Kendrick)
* A place not on the must-see list of our ancestors with feet of stern, impassioned stress; whether their heirs, who place so much more confidence in our own righteousness than they, can remain long, or well, on that thoroughfare across the wilderness in our own time remains to be seen.