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Scott P. Richert

Glory to the Newborn King!

By December 25, 2009

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Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled.

There are many great Christmas carols and hymns, but few have the theological richness of "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing." Written by Charles Wesley, brother of the founder of Methodism, "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" reminds us of two important truths. Christ is the God-made-Man, Whose Incarnation is the singular event in human history, toward which all of mankind once struggled, and in the shadow of which all of mankind now lives.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Christ's Incarnation could have taken on a different form; God could have sent His Son as a full-grown Man. That He chose not to—that He chose, instead, to have His Son follow (so far as His glory allowed) the normal path of human life—draws mankind to God as God enters mankind. In the words of the Athanasian Creed, Christ's Incarnation accomplishes "the assumption of humanity in the Godhead." By becoming Man, Christ united man with God in a way that even Adam and Eve had not been.

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.

The Eastern Fathers of the Church (and, later in the West, Blessed John Duns Scotus) speculated that Christ would have become Man even if mankind had not sinned. But we did, both through Adam and Eve and personally. And thus Christ's Incarnation takes on an even greater significance—the felix culpa, the "happy fault" of Saint Augustine, that reconciled sinners to God and gave them—us—"second birth."

Without Christ's sacrifice on the Cross on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday, our faith, as Saint Paul says, would be in vain. From the Annunciation through the Nativity, through the Crucifixion and the Resurrection to the Ascension, Christ's life is not a series of separate events, but a single seamless cloth. When we look at the Child in the manger, we cannot help but see the Man on the Cross, and we know that our redemption has been accomplished.

On Christmas morning, Bethlehem and Calvary are united as we, like the centurion, proclaim, "Truly this is the Son of God."

Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!

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