My favorite Christmas carol is “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Pastor’s prerogative allows me to put this song at the end of the Christmas service. It is rousing and ends on a strong note. Most important to me, the words of this song give me great comfort and encouragement.
I especially love the second half of the third verse, “Mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die/ born to raise each child of earth, born to give us second birth.” For me, these two phrases sum up the Incarnation. Jesus doesn’t come as a fire-breathing, chariot-driving, fear-mongering salesman of salvation. Instead, he is mild- a healthy infant, wrapped tightly, representing God’s willingness to break into time and space and flesh and breath and blood and water.
Jesus comes for each child of earth. Not only for those who will perceive him as the Messiah, but also for those who will deny him, those who will betray him, those who will doubt, and those who just are not sure. The second birth, through water and the Spirit, is more than the one moment of our baptism, but the regular opportunities we have- through grace- to be a part of what God is doing in the world for Christ’s sake.
As soon as we round the church year corner that is Christ the King Sunday, my whole body anticipates singing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” Since it is a Christmas song, I usually have to wait until Christmas Eve for us to carol out these words together. We do not always get the last verse in the Family Service (at 5:30 pm). Thus, it is finally at about 9:30 on Christmas Eve- after candles and communion and everything- that the words that give me chills finally ring out into the night.
This is Christmas for me and it is the moment I anticipate each year. A full-throated burst of this song is the greatest gift to me because it make me grateful, all over again, for the greatest gift the world has ever received. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see! Hail, Incarnate Deity!/ Pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”