This line from the song “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” is one of my favorites from all Christmas songs. This line, from a later verse of the song, speaks of Christ in a rather poetic (and memorable) fashion that makes the ear tingle and the heart raise.
I think one of the reasons why hymns have been losing their edge in public worship, besides the style of music itself, is the work it takes to understand them. Just singing the words “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see” is impossible to understand without a thinking brain rearranging the words to get:
“See the Godhead veiled in flesh.”
Even that may take some people a few seconds to draw out exactly what it means.
But I like some of the old hymns, and an electric guitar and talented drummer can liven up even the slowest and oldest of tunes. Christmas time is the one time of the year when even contemporary churches hearken back to the old hymns. And that gives me an opportunity to look at this special line from this old, old song.
If I’ve learned one thing from John Piper’s books, articles, and sermons, it is that God pursues His own joy. The incarnation was not a bit of drudgery that the Son was obligated to perform. He did it willingly, joyfully, for our sake and ultimately for His glory. The self-humiliation of God in the incarnation was merely a precursor to the self-humiliation of God on the cross. At the onset, the outset was understood, yet Christ still went through with it all.
The author of Hebrews tells us in 12:2 that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” And Isaiah tells us in 53:10, according to the NASB, that “the Lord was pleased to crush Him.”
“In the beginning was the Word… and the Word became flesh.” The eternal Son condescended to become man. Galatians 4:4-5 tells us “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Christ was born as a man at just the right time in history to complete the righteous requirements of the Law for us and thus make our adoption possible. Paul gives an even greater emphasis on the lowliness of Christ’s condescension in Romans 8:3-4, which says, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us…” Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh.
“With Men to Dwell”
The incarnation is made even more wonderful by the fact that the Son was pleased to dwell with men. The holiness of God requires that sin be punished. It was precisely for that reason that Christ came. But in order to bear our punishment, He chose to live among us—sinners wallowing in our own retched filth. His indignation at sin was apparent from His interactions with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, but He summarized His mission early on: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:7).
This is only one small line from one hymn many of us know by heart. It is good to take time to study and know these songs with our heart as well.