Sunday 25 December 2011

Let Earth and Heaven Combine

Here is one of my favourite Christmas hymns that I haven’t sung for a while. It’s by Charles Wesley. I will be forever grateful that I spent my formative Christian years in a church tradition where hymns like this were de rigueur – sung, believed, preached, and lived.

Looking at it again, the second verse now sounds a little docetic to my ears! I strongly suspect that can’t be the case with Wesley. Moreover, the whole tenor of the hymn speaks of the mystery of what God was doing in becoming flesh, captured wonderfully in those lines in the first verse – ‘Our God contracted to a span/Incomprehensibly made man’. That always made me smile as each member of the congregation would invariably fit the words to the music in slightly different ways. But, just to sing it, to think about matching the music, required thinking about the lines and then being taken up – even just for a moment – in wonder.

Let earth and Heaven combine,

Angels and men agree,

To praise in songs divine

The incarnate Deity,

Our God contracted to a span,

Incomprehensibly made Man.

He laid His glory by,

He wrapped Him in our clay;

Unmarked by human eye,

The latent Godhead lay;

Infant of days He here became,

And bore the mild Immanuel’s Name.

See in that Infant’s face

The depths of deity,

And labour while ye gaze

To sound the mystery

In vain; ye angels gaze no more,

But fall, and silently adore.

Unsearchable the love

That hath the Savior brought;

The grace is far above

Of men or angels’ thought:

Suffice for us that God, we know,

Our God, is manifest below.

He deigns in flesh t’appear,

Widest extremes to join;

To bring our vileness near,

And make us all divine:

And we the life of God shall know,

For God is manifest below.

Made perfect first in love,

And sanctified by grace,

We shall from earth remove,

And see His glorious face:

His love shall then be fully showed,

And man shall all be lost in God.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

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