- Joseph Stringer
God Came Down
“O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels' voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born.”
(John Sullivan Dwight. ca 1858. Music by Adolphe Adam, 1847)
“What sweeter music can we bring,
Than a carol for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!”
(John Rutter, 1996)
Abide with me in the wonder of this night, when our Lord became incarnate as a babe in Mary’s arms.
“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.” This night we celebrate that God came down. The Word became incarnate, a living human baby who would grow to become a man. This one event is the fulcrum of all history and of all creation. It enlightens and imbues every moment of our lives with deep significance. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God became one of us.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” We touch so briefly upon the fall of the world. This night looks not backward in sorrow but forward in joy. This night is for rejoicing. Though we were separated and lost through sin and error, our world pined for redemption. It is only at the moment of Jesus’ birth when “the soul felt its worth.” Within that very act, Jesus reveals the promise which he would later state: “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21: 5) The broken promise has been made whole. The lost have been brought home. Love came down — to give the soul its worth; to lift us into communion.
“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” This night is for all creation. The composer John Rutter captures the transformation of our world which took place that night:
“Why does the chilling winter’s morn
Smile like a field beset with corn
Or smell like a meadow newly shorn?
Thus, on the sudden, come and see
The cause why things thus fragrant be.”
(“What Sweeter Music” John Rutter, 1996)
The apostle Paul says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now…” (Romans 8:22) The “now” of which Paul speaks is the fulfillment of the Father’s promise to us, begun this very night. The bright stars of this holy night vibrate with the “thrill of hope.” The cold winter’s night suddenly warms as our hearts warm with the news. Nature kneels in response to Christ’s birth. Joy came down — to renew all creation.
Our world remains weary. Our fallen human nature still rejects God’s gift of love. Many abandon Christ for the false promises of the modern world and are surprised when the dominant spirit of that world is weariness. Where do we find hope today? Christians know that our hope lies not in the things of this world but in our relationship with Jesus. Yet we also fall to despair. Yet God will not leave us to founder upon the hopeless rocks of our own making. His love is always new, fresh and real, moving within the world even this day. Just as the shepherd in Jesus’ parable lifted the straying sheep upon his shoulders, Hope came down — to lift us from our weariness. The entire creation shouts with joy at our return.
“For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” The “new and glorious morn” breaks upon the darkness which once imprisoned us. Jesus tells his disciples (and us), “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it…” (Luke 10: 23-24). This is the meaning of that promised morning: that today we see, know and understand His gift. Here begins the redemption of the entire world. In becoming flesh, Jesus blesses all of creation. He will lift this fallen world into the promise of everlasting morning and blessing. Christ came down — with salvation upon His heart.
“Fall on your knees, O hear the angels’ voices.” In the midst of the night’s darkness, the shepherds watch in the field. The wind is cold. The rock at their backs provides little comfort. Wolves prowl nearby and threaten the flock. The sheep wander away seeking sustenance among the meager grasses. Sleep for the shepherds is restless, with waiting and watching. We recognize this scene for each of us in our lonely lives.
Then in the bleak midwinter darkness, a brilliant light appears and an angel stands before them. Luke tells us, “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God…” (Luke 2: 9-13) This indeed is the divine breaking into the commonplace of night and lighting it with flaming brilliance. Hear the angel voices declare to shepherds in the field. “O night divine, O night when Christ was born.” Emmanuel came down — to be God with us.
Rutter continues later in his carol, “We see him come, and know him ours…” Matthew tells us in his Gospel account that wise men from the East came to worship the child. They and the shepherds were the few who saw and witnessed this moment, this birth of the world anew. They did not and could not understand what God’s ultimate plan would be for this unknown child. What blessing we own: to look back upon that night and see its holiness; and to grasp that here was the seed which would — upon a cross on Golgotha — crush sin and death. The purest love of all the created universe came down to be placed in swaddling clothes in a poor manger. When we understand with full awareness, we can only fall upon our knees in gratitude and praise for this priceless gift. The Son came down — so that we might know the Father.
May the blessing of God’s Christmas Promise live within your hearts throughout the year.
“What sweeter music can we bring,
Than a carol for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King.
The birth of this our heavenly King.”