Summary: A hymn from the earliest days of the Faith becomes the focus of a Christmas Eve meditation.
“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.”
Everyone celebrates Christmas. This is not an exaggeration. A new study reveals that nine in ten Americans personally celebrate Christmas. That includes agnostics, those claiming to be adherents of religions other than Christianity, and even atheists. In fact, 89% of agnostics and those claiming no religious preference celebrate Christmas, 62% of those claiming other religions and 55% of atheists celebrate Christmas. It would seem accurate to say that what was discovered in the survey in the United States holds true in Canada as well. Everyone celebrates Christmas.
Brilliant light displays are evident on the homes even of neighbours that make no pretence of worshipping the Son of God. The exchange of gifts will take place in almost every home, though I doubt that many pause to think of why they would exchange gifts. Few families fail to come together at Christmas where they will share a scrumptious meal served on a table groaning under the weight of the food.
Then, there are the carols that are traditional at this season of the year. What is your favourite Christmas song? Perhaps not surprisingly, among the twenty-five most popular holiday songs, only one is remotely connected to the birth of the Son of God. A list compiled of the 25 most performed holiday songs is available online. Here’s the list:
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Jingle Bell Rock
Little Drummer Boy
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Frosty the Snowman
A Holly Jolly Christmas
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Here Comes Santa Claus
(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays
Carol of the Bells
Each of these songs undoubtedly evoke memories for many of us, and undoubtedly each of us enjoy hearing them. Most of us present will enjoy hearing and singing some of the great hymns that mark our faith in the Son of God. “Joy to the World,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” and hundreds of other hymns and carols bespeak faith in Jesus our Saviour.
However, I suggest that the greatest Christmas carol ever written is unknown to most of us. It is a First Century oldie with lyrics that are so phenomenal that there is no way they should remain unknown. The tune is no longer known; but the lyrics—well, let’s just say they are inspired. I have no doubt that the song was once sung in such places as Thyatira, Sardis, Philippi, and it was assuredly known in Ephesus where it was sung during worship. The song definitely captures the essence of Christmas—the Incarnation—the time that God became man.
The song points those who sing, and those who listen, to Christ Jesus who is declared to be God! It is doubtless true that Paul was quoting a well-known hymn of that era when he wrote the words before us. The hymn would qualify as a Christmas carol, if for no other reason than where it begins—the birth of Jesus the Messiah. As we prepare to remember the birth of the Messiah, and especially as we anticipate a day of joyous celebration tomorrow, I invite you to think of what is declared in this lost carol.
When Paul writes, “Great indeed, we confess,” he uses language that means “by common consent.” In other words, what he is about to state is held as essential to the Christian Faith. Without common consent on what follows, there is no Faith. Those who wish to be called “Christian” must hold to this common belief about essential truth. What truth is in view? The question is not only legitimate, but it is essential. The Faith is defined by this ancient hymn that was once sung as part of worship in all the early churches.
First, the Son of God was manifested in the flesh. The word translated “manifested,” is a Greek term that carries the connotation of revealing. In other words, it is a strong testimony of the pre-existence of God the Son, just as John declares of Him. “No one has ever seen God; the only One, Himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known” [JOHN 1:18]. While we speak of Christ being born of a virgin, no one should imagine that the Word of God implies that His existence began with His birth. Rather, His expression as man began with His birth of a virgin.