Friday, I sang a song that was new to me. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, and the song is worthwhile, my spirit sits bolt upright. This was a “Christmas song,” I suppose — a true carol — and I’m not talking about Frosty or the decking of halls, which are not the subjects of bona fide carols. I’m not much for observing days and seasons as a matter of law, but I’m very much interested in good theology that leads to authentic worship. When those things are present, and it happens to be “the season” for the subtopic, I figure I’m in the middle of a reasonable convergence.
New expressions, when carried on wings of appropriate, and not-too-difficult music, can enliven the spirit. The last time this happened to me was three months ago; even this once-in-90-days frequency is greater than average. At any rate, in the Friday gathering, the words of this hymn helped me to worship, so I’ll share them here, with a little commentary interspersed.
Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
Words (1864) by Emily Elliott; Music by Timothy Matthews (public domain)
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
As you ponder that, ignore the commercialism and habits suggested these days by the word “nativity.” Take it simply, literally — along with a literal “holy” — and the validity of the facts of Jesus’ birth can become worthy inspiration.
Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.
Again, acknowledging a couple of seasonally over-seasoned phrasings (“angels sang,” “lowly birth”), we can overcome that dullness, spiritually affirming such deep put truths as the joy of heaven, and the extent of His kingly status juxtaposed with His meek humility.
Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word,
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
Thank you, O poet, for not leaving Jesus in the manger when you speak of ransom and atonement. These things occurred with the cross.
When the heav’ns shall ring, and her choirs shall sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee.
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me.
The overarching imagery in this worship song (yes, it is a worship song, although ’twill ne’er show up in anyone’s contemporary worship set list!) is that of the Bethlehem inn — the lack of space there and the question of “space” in the individual heart for the Lord. And so we move from cosmic theology to a consciousness of a sort of “theophany” for the individual believer.
Jesus was not really “Lord at His birth”; to suggest that He was manifests not only an ignorance of the word “lord,” but also a pandering to popular, piddling, perhaps over-poetized theologies. I do generally like the song “Silent Night” and can sometimes be enthused by it, but lyrical hyperbole does not make for the best theology on every point. It is not the child who is our savior; it is the crucified, risen Son of God — Who for a time had a body, and Who at one time was a human baby.
The refrains of the song repetitively remind us of the connection between ancient history and present relationship. It is eminently worshipful to speak to the Lord in humble recognition of the Incarnation, and to express a desire for Him to dwell in my heart.
[This is an installment in the Monday Worship Music series. Find other, related posts through this link.]