Born that man no more may die
The glory and gospel of Christmas
Christmas comes at last. The news headlines never pause, and the worries of the world continue to pile up, and we need rescue. Finally, Christmas comes.
To be human is to be immersed in life and its affairs. Work and worries are never far from reach, and they threaten to interrupt without notice or apology. Even as families gather for Christmas, someone still works most newsrooms, the military remains on alert, and medical personnel continue their works of mercy.
The celebration of Christmas is always a bit awkward for Christians. Unbelievers can simply latch on to Christmas as a holiday. Believers know that every day is a celebration of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not believe or preach anything at Christmas that Christians have not believed and preached every day of every year since Jesus established his church.
Some Christians worry that Christmas has been so corrupted by consumerism and triviality that it cannot be rescued from confusion. And yet, Christians need the annual celebrations of the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need the annual affirmations of the incarnation of the Son of God and his resurrection from the dead. We need the truth proclaimed and the joy expressed. We need the festivals as we live out the faith. We need the carols and the candles and the bells. We need the wonder on the faces of our children and the glory on the faces of the old.
We need the hymns, and we need to sing them. We need little children dressed like shepherds and miniature wise men from the east. We need to sing the hymns of Christmas with our voices and, following the admonition of Martin Luther, hurl them loudly at the devil.
The devil hates all true Christmas carols, but there are particular carols with specific words that must infuriate him beyond measure. Just consider these words from Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: “Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”
In terms of pedigree and poetry, it is hard to match Hark! The Herald Angels Sing in the evangelical heritage. The words were originally composed by Charles Wesley in 1739. Charles was the great hymn writer and companion to his brother, John Wesley, the great evangelist. Rivaling the sixteenth century Reformers in influence, the Wesleys transformed evangelical Christianity. John’s words started an entire movement and brought many to Christ. Charles’s words are sung every week, hymn after hymn, in evangelical churches.
But, nearly 20 years after Charles Wesley wrote the hymn, another father of evangelical Christianity slightly modified it and made it even more popular in the churches. George Whitefield taught more Christians to declare the truth of Christmas through this hymn, and shortened it so that the gospel content would be even more clear. Christ was “born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”
It was Jesus who made the second birth so clear when he spoke to Nicodemus as recorded in John chapter 3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem so that he might die for our sins, raise us to glory, and give us a second birth. Salvation and the new birth come to sinners who believe in Jesus Christ, repent of sins, and trust in Christ alone.
Jesus was born that men no more may die. The gospel promises everlasting life to all who believe in him. Jesus saves.
One of my favorite traditions of Christmas is the annual Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The most familiar of the services was arranged by the late Sir David Willcocks, who chose Hark! The Herald Angels Sing as the recessional hymn for the service. The choir and congregation conclude worship with the hymn, introduced and concluded with magnificent trumpet fanfares. Thus, the service ends with the stanza including the words, “born that men no more may die.”
Then: “Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born king.”
Praise to the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—for our salvation.
Merry Christmas from WORLD Opinions. The headlines will wait. The issues will beckon again. But, for now, revel in Christmas and in the incarnation of Christ the Lord. Share a meal, hug your loved ones, kiss a grandchild’s precious face, and sing a hymn.
Glory to the new-born king.
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.