“Love Caused Your Incarnation”

“Love Caused Your Incarnation” December 25, 2018

We hear Christmas songs during Advent, so here is an Advent Song for Christmas:  O Lord, How Shall I Meet You
by the unutterably great hymn writer Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676).   My Christmas gift to you!

I wasn’t that familiar with this hymn, but our pastor started the practice of featuring a hymn, then having us sing it every Sunday for a number of successive weeks so that we make it our own.  We sang this one every Sunday in Advent, but it also works magnificently as a Christmas hymn.

I was transfixed by the fourth stanza:

Love caused your incarnation;
Love brought you down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
Oh, love beyond all telling,
That led you to embrace
In love, all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.

Why did God become incarnate in Jesus Christ?  “Love”!  Gerhardt goes so far as to say that Love “caused” it!  We aren’t used to thinking that anything could “cause” God to do anything.  And yet, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Gerhardt is similarly bold and remarkably vivid in describing the intensity of this love from God’s point of view:  “Your thirst for my salvation.”  It isn’t just that we can be saved, that God allows for it.  Rather, God wants us to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).  He yearns for us to be saved.  He thirsts for our salvation.

In another vivid image, Gerhardt describes God not just grudgingly accepting but actively embracing “our lost and fallen race.”

Also, the music, by Johann Crüger (1598-1662), is achingly beautiful.  Listen to it, from a wonderful recording of Lutheran hymnody from Concordia Publishing House:

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For more information about this hymn–including sheet music, historical background, various translations, a list of hymnals that include it, and on and on–see the page on this hymn at that invaluable resource on hymnody:  The Hymnary.

Here are the complete lyrics.  (I’ll bold some more good lines.):

O Lord, how shall I meet you,
How welcome you aright?
Your people long to greet you,
My hope, my heart’s delight!
Oh, kindle, Lord most holy,
Your lamp within my breast
To do in spirit lowly
All that may please you best.

Your Zion strews before you
Green boughs and fairest palms;
And I too will adore you
With joyous songs and psalms.
My heart shall bloom forever
For you with praises new
And from your name shall never
With hold the honor due.

I lay in fetters, groaning;
You came to set me free.
I stood, my shame bemoaning;
You came to honor me.
A glorious crown you give me,
A treasure safe on high
That will not fail or leave me
As earthly riches fly.

Love caused your incarnation;
Love brought you down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
Oh, love beyond all telling,
That led you to embrace
In love, all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.

Rejoice, then, you sad-hearted,
Who sit in deepest gloom,
Who mourn your joys departed
And tremble at your doom.
Despair not; he is near you,
There, standing at the door,
Who best can help and cheer you
And bids you weep no more.

He comes to judge the nations,
A terror to his foes,
A light of consolations
And blessed hope to those
Who love the Lord’s appearing.
O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth your beams so cheering,
And guide us safely home.

 

Illustration:  “Angels Pray at the Birth of Christ,” Wellcome Library [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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