What’s your favorite thing about Christmas? Some say Christmas sights: twinkling lights, tinseled decorations, stockings hung over the mantle, and, of course, awful sweaters. Others love Christmas smells: the evergreen effusions of the tree or the mouthwatering waftings of fresh cookies, ginger bread, and hot cocoa. Still others savor Christmas sentiments: the joy of being surrounded by loved ones, the sweet refreshment of time away from work and school, the delight of gift giving, and the feelings of cheer and charity that permeate the air.
What I love most about this season, however, is Christmas songs. Perhaps I have my mother to blame for that. Each year, without fail, she would ring in the holidays with Roger Whittaker’s rendition of “Ding Dong Merrily on High.” Years later, I would drive home from college through the night while my mother was waiting up, her finger on the “play” button of the stereo, for me to walk through the front door. Thankfully, the booming baritone of Mr. Whittaker was a gateway and not a final destination: as my love for the gospel grew, my love for the great Advent hymns grew as well.
Do you have a favorite Christmas song? Of all the wonderful Advent hymns, perhaps of all hymnody, none is more precious to me than the great masterpiece born out of the collaborative genius of Charles Wesley and George Whitfield, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” In brilliant prose set to a breathtaking melody, the hymn boldly glories in the humiliation of Christmas. Yes, the humiliation of Christmas.
Christ, by highest heav'n adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the Virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th' incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King.
As we bask in the sights, smells, and sentiments of Christmas this year, let us be sure to bask in the mystery and beauty of Christ’s humiliation, who, though He was the Potentate of Time, stepped out of eternity and into time. Though He dwelt in unapproachable light, the Light of the World, He shined in the darkness. Though He was Mighty God, He did not despise the virgin’s womb, but took to Himself a true body and reasonable soul to experience all of the miseries and infirmities of our humanity. Though He owned the cattle on a thousand hills, He chose a cattle’s trough for His crib. Paul said it best: “Though He was rich, yet for [our] sake He became poor, so that [we] by His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Though he was the Lawgiver, he bowed beneath the law as the Second Adam that he might redeem through righteousness that which was ruined by the first Adam's wretchedness. Though He was the thrice holy, spotless Lamb of God, He took to Himself the sins of His people and bore them on Calvary’s cross that “we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God grant that this truth, this gospel, would be our favorite thing about Christmas.