I love Christmas carols. As soon as December hits, you will hear me humming ‘Hark the herald’ or ‘Joy to the world’. And there are some beautiful lines in them that make our hearts rejoice – ‘Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled’; ‘He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found’.
But if you are like me, alongside some wonderful words, there are some lines where it feels as if you might as well be reading a shopping list. Hearing a line like ‘very God, begotten not created’ doesn’t exactly make my heart sing, because I don’t know what it means. And because we can’t sing in church, I have realised how many lines in carols I normally just sing, not thinking about what they mean at all.
So let’s look briefly at just one verse from a famous carol, in the hope that we can all rejoice in these words a little more this Christmas. Here is verse 2 from ‘O come all ye faithful’:
God of God, Light of Light
Lo, He abhors not the virgin's womb
Begotten, not created
O come let us adore Him…
Several phrases of this verse might sound odd to us, but except for line 2 they are all getting at one big idea - that the Son is fully and truly divine.
Let’s look at these phrases one at a time.
‘Light of Light’ put less poetically means something like ‘if you light a match from a candle, both the candle and the match have the same content – fire. Just like that, the Father and Son have the same essence – divinity.’
‘God of God’ works the same way. Jesus is not ‘less God’ than the Father. He is ‘very God’, which means ‘completely’, or ‘exactly’ God. He is lacking nothing that God is - He is God.
And ‘begotten, not created’ could take up a blog post of its own, but it means that the Son has eternally existed as the Son of the Father. There was never a time when he was not. He wasn’t created by the Father and is not beneath the Father. The Son is truly and fully divine.
We are maybe now a little bit clearer as to what this verse means.
But why do these things matter? And how should we respond?
Firstly, if Jesus is ‘God of God, Light of Light’ as the carol puts it, or ‘the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being’ as the book of Hebrews says, then He can reveal to us what God is like. This means, as one theologian put it, that ‘there is no God in heaven who is unlike Jesus’. To answer the question ‘What is God like?’, all we have to do is look at Jesus.
Secondly, the fact that the Son is truly and fully God makes it even more wonderful that He wouldn’t recoil at taking on human nature, that he would willingly be born as a baby for us (Lo, He abhors not the virgin’s womb). The fully and perfectly divine Son was not ashamed to come and save us. As another carol puts it, the Son of God was ‘pleased as man with man (humanity) to dwell’.
Related to this, God didn’t send a lesser being like an angel to do His ‘dirty work’ for Him. Instead, God himself, in the person of the Son, came among us for our salvation.
Understanding all these truths underlying the carol naturally leads us to respond with the refrain - ‘O come let us adore him’. Our response to these truths can only be joyful, humble worship.
That’s why understanding these phrases matters.
Listening carefully and spending some time with these lyrics has helped me rejoice this Christmas. Can I invite you to join me? Let’s listen carefully, think deeply, and ask the Lord to give us joy in the truths we hear this Christmas!