As we approach the holy season of our Lord’s nativity, we likely will join in asking the question: “Why lies He in such mean estate Where ox and ass lately fed?” My fellow sinners, we all know the answer quite well. As shameful as it is, we know our Lord Jesus even as a baby was our holy Substitute. Since He came to take our place, He descended to our deep and dark level from His eternal throne on high. But being placed in a manger would not be the lowest depths of His substitutionary work for us. The depth would eventually be reached when He was nailed upon the cross for our sins.
At least in the manger, His shame was wrapped in swaddling clothes and His mother was there, able to tend to His every need. But not so on the cross. There He was fully exposed in our naked shamefulness, His loving mother looking on with tears, unable to make her Son comfortable. And worse yet, Jesus would be abandoned and forsaken by His heavenly Father as He turned away from the One who was made to be sin for us all. Then the question could be asked: “Why hangs He in such mean estate Where criminals go to die?” From infancy to full maturity, our Holy Substitute entered upon our mean estate to set us free from it forever and win for us an eternal home in the eternal lap of luxury. From womb to tomb, our dear Jesus experienced our mean estate out of love for us and to save us.
Things have changed in our culture now that Christmas shopping to a large extent happens online. However, in department stores throughout the last two months of the year, you can usually still hear Christmas songs and carols, secular and sacred. Shoppers will find themselves humming along, if not even quietly singing, to some classic words describing what God has done for our human race by sending His Son. For example, in addition to ELH #145 “What Child Is This?” v. 2 quoted above:
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
(ELH #137 “O Little Town of Bethlehem” v. 3)
No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found …
(ELH #138, “Joy to the World” v. 3)
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
(ELH #125 “Hark! The Herald Angels Sin” v. 1)
God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ, our Savior,
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy …
(ELH #126 “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” v. 1)
It is my prayer for you that your observance of our Lord’s nativity this year will once again be enriched through the singing of these deeply rich Gospel-centered songs. And that it happens well beyond your Christmas shopping, but in gathering together with your brothers and sisters in Christ in your houses of worship. There, like the shepherds of old, you will be glorifying and praising God for all you have heard and seen, as it has been told to you. Gloria in excelsis Deo!
President Glenn Obenberger