At this time of the year, Christians celebrate the pivotal event that changed everything for all time: the coming of Jesus, the Light of all men (John 1:4, 9). Before He came the world was in its long night of foreboding darkness and ontological futility. After He came, darkness was forced to recede by the full spectrum starlight of God’s grace. It’s no wonder that poets and bards through the ages, awestruck, amazed, and astounded by the incandescence of Christ’s advent, worshipped God with their skills by creating carols about Christmas. One famous carol, in particular, caught my attention this year because it honors what the advent means for believers. It begins by citing events described in Luke 2:
Hark! The Herald Angels sing Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
Written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, the whole carol is a delicious theological feast about God coming to live with men as a man, Jesus, Immanuel — God with us — physically born as a human being. The virgin birth, the deity of Christ, and God’s ultimate solution for mankind’s fall are distilled in these lines: “Mild He lays His glory by, / Born that men no more may die; / Born to raise the sons of earth, / Born to give them second birth.”
But, “Born to give them second birth” is not the last line of Wesley’s carol, even though it’s usually the last line published in today’s hymnals. Wesley actually wrote ten stanzas for Hark the Herald Angels Sing but generally we hear just the first six. Here are the last four, which speak of life after the second birth:
Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home; Rise, the woman’s conquering Seed, Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power, Ruined nature now restore; Now in mystic union join Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, Stamp Thine image in its place: Second Adam from above, Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain, Thee, the Life, the inner man: O, to all Thyself impart, Formed in each believing heart.
The first six stanzas beautifully extoll the events of Jesus’ birth, but these last four shed light on the redeemed life. They tell of Christ’s activity in men’s souls. They connect Christmas with what it means to be a Christian. They tell of the gift brought to mankind by Jesus’s life. God has come to live not just among us but also in us and to impart His life there for all time. All of us, ruined by the fall, are invited to respond to the divine arrival by accepting God’s restoration. Lives once lost and destined for eternal separation from the Creator can be regained. Christmas is indeed a watershed, but its effects are even more so.
I find one of the lines most affecting and intriguing: “Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, / Stamp Thine image in its place.” This is an exciting description of being in Christ: the effacement of our old Adamic nature juxtaposed with the suffusing of God’s holy life in us. To efface means to erase to the point of inconspicuousness. Due to the fall of Adam, every person is born with his mark; the sin nature is universal. Shout for joy, though, because Jesus came to repeal and replace.
As people who live on the other side of Christmas day, believers in Jesus seek for the ongoing erasure of Adam’s likeness and the increasing impression of God’s. Wesley didn’t just write a carol about the divine advent to the earth; he wrote about the divine advent in the soul, the radiant and clear stamp of God’s presence in those who respond to the Gospel which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes it” (Romans 1:16).
God manifests himself in His children by filling them with inexpressible joy and peace. God’s image, the perfection of His likeness, was His original gift to Adam and Eve. Christmas is the celebration of how much our Heavenly Father cares about His creation by sending His Son to reconcile and restore it.
Here on the other side of celebrating Christ’s advent, the other side of all the seasonal singing and happy gatherings, I must ask myself, is Adam’s likeness fading in me? Does the joy, the weight, and the glory of Christmas shine out from my life so that the world can see evidence of my Savior’s image stamped on me? Do others see me as awestruck, amazed, and astounded by the magnificence of Christ’s advent? Does His personal coming to earth affect me personally? Do I live like everything has changed? These are crucial questions because being a disciple of Jesus means one will strive to obey Him and be like Him. Being a disciple maker for Christ means Christmas impacts not just one’s life on December 25 or 26, but also one’s life on December 27, 28, and every day thereafter. This lost world needs to see Jesus; that’s why we’re here!
I think the last stanza of Wesley’s carol provides some hints for praying about one’s desire to be effective for God’s kingdom. I offer this nonpoetic paraphrase as a prayer: “Father, I was lost in my old sin nature but You settled it all and gave me the gift of Your inward presence. Please make grow the kernel of belief You germinated in my soul so that the image of Your beloved Son grows there all the more. And as a consequence of that growth, will You multiply Your image so that more disciples follow You? For that purpose, please stamp me with your Christmas joy, stamp me with the image of Your Son. Amen.”
Has any particular Christmas carol blessed you this year? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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