One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” It was written in 1739 by Charles Wesley. Maybe you remember it as the closing song of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
But when we get to the line, “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die,” what does that mean?
It’s the most stunning truth about Christmas.
Paul referred to the same truth in another song. In Philippians 2, most scholars believe he was quoting from an early Christian hymn when he wrote of Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be
used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
In the words of Wesley, he laid his glory by. He set aside the privileges of being in very nature God, and entered into our world. The Creator visited his creation in person.
Maybe you’re familiar with the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Dorothy Sayers wrote the series of stories in the 1940s. Lord Wimsey was an eccentric, not always easy to get along with, and alone. But things changed when Sayers introduced into the series a woman named Harriet Vane. They eventually married and Wimsey became the better for it.
Now, here’s the interesting part. Vane was a writer of mystery novels.
And Vane was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford.
Many believe that Sayers decided to write herself into her novels to save a character she created and loved.
Christmas is where God wrote himself into the story to save the characters he created and loved. Paul’s song in Philippians 2 goes on to say that the Son of God descended down into human experience, even to suffering death on a cross. Jesus said such an act of service would be a “ransom” to rescue us (Matthew 20:28). And thus–
Mild he lays his glory by;
Born that man no more may die.
We don’t normally think of Philippians 2:6-11 as a Christmas passage, but in a way that’s exactly what it is! This is the story behind the manger and the astonished shepherds and the exotic Magi and the bright star. Tim Keller (who was the first to use the Sayers novels to explain Christmas), wrote:
The modern world is filled with people who say they believe in Jesus, they say they understand who he is, but it hasn’t revolutionized their lives. There has been no…lasting change. The only way to explain this is that, contrary to what they claim, they haven’t really grasped the meaning that he is ‘God with us’” (46)….In Jesus the ineffable, unapproachable God becomes a human being who can be known and loved. And, through faith, we can know this love.
This does not stun us as much as it should. Look at the Old Testament. Anytime anyone drew near to God it was completely terrifying. God appears to Abraham as a smoking furnace, to Israel as a pillar of fire, to Job as a hurricane or tornado. When Moses asked to see the face of God, he was told it would kill him, that at best he could only get near God’s outskirts, his ‘back’ (Exodus 33:18-23). When Moses came down off the mountain, his face was so bright with radiance that the people could not look at him (Exodus 34:29-30)—so great, so high and unapproachable is God.
Can you imagine, then, if Moses were present today, and he were to hear the message of Christmas, namely, that ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son’ (John 1:14)? Moses would cry out, ‘Do you realize what this means? This is the very thing I was denied! This means that through Jesus Christ you can meet God. You can know him personally and without terror. He can come into your life. Do you realize what’s going on? Where’s your joy? Where’s your amazement? This should be the driving force of your life!’
Well? Is it ?