Well, here we are again; “’tis the season” of decorated houses, frantic shopping at the ‘maul’ (yes, I meant to spell it that way), and “Christmas” carols and jingles blaring on almost every radio station I tune into (which is why I don’t listen to the radio much from Thanksgiving to New Years). As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not one that’s real big on all the stuff that dresses up for “the holiday season”; not to mention a few of the things that the church embraces during this time. Now before you start shouting out “Scrooge!”, or even “anti-Christ”, I explained myself in a previous blog entitled “wonder… .” In fact, it is because of this idea of ‘wonder’ that leads me to write this blog.
As a worship leader who facilitates corporate worship in song, this season has presented certain challenges for me. I’m very particular about the songs I select for worship. Quite frankly, I do not care much for Christmas carols and jingles; they are, in my humble opinion, just not appropriate. But I have discovered a treasury of Christmas hymns that I can honestly say ‘evoke’ a worshipful response from believers in Christ. And one such hymn is What Child is This?
In response to an inquiry as to how I select songs for worship, I have often said, “I pick the ones that make me cry.” 🙂 It’s not that I’m looking for songs solely for their ability to evoke an emotional response (although it is part of my criteria). The question is not “does it evoke a response,” so much as it’s “why does it evoke a response.” And that is the question I’ve been asking about What Child is This?, because it has most definitely struck a chord on a deep level within my soul (yes, it makes me cry). And it finally dawned on me what it is: it is the wonder of the mystery of the Incarnation.
I think as believers in Christ Jesus we take so many wonderful truths for granted and file them away as so much intellectual and theological information, without taking the time to engage in just how powerfully amazing and awe-inspiring these truths are. Just what is The Incarnation? Merriam-Webster.com presents the following definitions:
*in the Christian religion : the belief in Jesus Christ as both God and a human being; *the embodiment of a deity or spirit in some earthly form (2) capitalized : the union of divinity with humanity in Jesus Christ
I find the following definition quite insightful:
*a concrete or actual form of a quality or concept; especially : a person showing a trait or typical character to a marked degree <she is the incarnation of goodness>
In trying to explain this concept, the apostle Paul wrote:
He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God… For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell… [Colossians 1:16-19]
It’s quite a difficult concept to grasp, let alone embrace. Throughout Church history the great leaders, teachers, scholars, thinkers and theologians have grappled with, tried to understand and accurately convey in just the right words this truth for hundreds of years. Part of the problem is that we have nothing to compare God with. I mean, He’s not a “superman”; He is completely and totally other than what man is. What we know of God is what He has revealed of Himself, in nature, and by revelation. He is eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, completely and totally morally upright; He is UN-created Spirit (and what does that mean!?). We could go on and on until our heads would start hurting!!!
Yet we are told that The Omnipotent One became Emmanuel (“God-with-us”) out of sheer love for the ones He created in His image. The God of Life donned flesh in order to die in our place so that we could live– forever! Author, speaker and teacher Stephen S. J. Hill captured this idea in the most glorious way I’ve ever seen:
I’m fascinated by the humility of God. I think about it all the time. In the story of the birth of Christ, Omnipotence was clothed in the skin of fragile humanity! “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The Word became a squirming baby lying in a feeding trough for cattle. This defenseless Child was born to a humble couple who carried the stigma of having a baby out of wedlock. But in the wisdom of God, this frail baby who nursed on the breasts of a teenage, virgin girl, would one day bring redemption to mankind and, at the same time, wreak havoc on the powers of darkness!
Seriously, who can adequately explain or convey the enormity, the wonder of this!? But that is exactly why it’s called the mystery of the Incarnation, “a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand.” (Merriam-Webster.com)
This is what I love about worship (and in particular, worship with music): it so often enables us to “by-pass” our reasoning faculties in order to connect with truth that is “trans-rational”, and it does so in a way that we don’t just receive intellectual information, but we experience, we engage with life changing truth. And so when I sing this beautiful hymn I am receiving and understanding truth so wonderful, so profound, which moves me so deeply, the only proper response (for me) are tears of awe, wonder, humility and joy!
And time doesn’t permit me to expound on the practical applications of what little I do finally come to cognitively understand, how this experience and understanding should affect my daily life. Perhaps another time. Instead, I thought I’d offer you the opportunity to experience the mystery on your own. So here is my musical offering of What Child is This? for your own meditation and contemplation. I hope that, in the midst of all the trappings and happenings of this season, you can engage with the truth conveyed in this Christmas hymn, that you engage with The Truth, the Incarnate Deity, Jesus Christ.
© December 2014, Lemuel C. Dees
[This is a very rough recording of What Child is This?; not a a lot of polish, but I hope you are blessed with the offering~Lem]