The season of Advent is incomplete without the singing of Christmas carols.
This week’s song— “How Beautiful the Mystery” —is based on a Christmas carol I wrote in late 2000 as the text of our Christmas card. (Go ahead. Follow the link and have a listen. You can finish this post later.) I set the original text of this song to the existing hymn tune “Manoah.” Ten years later, my friends David Ward and Jeff Bourque would write a new tune, for which we added a chorus and additional verse.
Christmas carols, as would be expected, focus on the events surrounding the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. This is certainly a glorious thing on which to meditate. However, in pondering the mysteries of the babe in the manger, carols can sometimes neglect to focus our eyes on the purpose for which the Son of God took on human flesh. He came to save sinners through his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.
At the time I wrote this, midway through my second year in seminary, I had been meditating on how the circumstances of Jesus’ birth seemed to foreshadow and present in miniature the greater work for which he came. The center verses of the hymn meditate on these.
We find the Christ-child swaddled and sleeping in the feeding trough of beasts. In like manner, we find him content to live among the “filth and beasts” of sinful humanity—often preferring the company of those marginalized and rejected by the world. Who would believe that the babe in the manger and the carpenter who ate and drank with sinners would be the Savior of the world?
Herod’s dark decree to slaughter the children of Bethlehem drives Joseph and family from the land of Israel into Egypt. Young Jesus, trusting his earthly father, is exiled from the land that is rightly his. In like fashion, at the end of his life, Jesus would be driven outside the city of Jerusalem and cut-off from the land of the living. Nevertheless, he faces crucifixion bowing his head in faith before his Father, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Such connections help me remember the hour for which the “little Lord Jesus, asleep in the hay” was born—to lay down his life, cursed on a cross. May we always grow ever more amazed at the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Son of God leaving the wealth of heaven to “live and love and die and rise,” of “our Christ, our hope, our heart’s desire, our King, and Sovereign Joy.”
I hope you enjoy this song. More than that, I hope it helps you enjoy Jesus.