Joy

The Joy of the Incarnation - What One Great Hymn Teaches Us

This past Sunday evening I had an opportunity to comment upon one of the hymns we sang after the Cherub Choir pageant, Paul Gerhardt’s “All My Heart This Night Rejoices.” This hymn is not as familiar as some, yet its words richly repay our contemplation and meditation. Gerhardt begins by declaring his joy in the birth of Jesus:

All my heart this night rejoices
as I hear far and near
sweetest angel voices.
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing
till the air ev’rywhere
now with joy is ringing.

In the next six stanzas, Gerhardt give us several reasons why the incarnation of our Savior brings us such great joy.

1 – Because the incarnation was an act of war. Gerhardt sings in the second stanza,

Forth today the Conqu’ror goeth,
who the foe, sin and woe,
death and hell o’erthroweth.

 We probably don’t often think about the incarnation in this way (Herod certainly did when he sent his soldiers to kill all the babies in Bethlehem two and under; see Matthew 2:16-17). Yet we see the connection between the incarnation of the Word of God and His conflict with His and our enemies all the way back in Genesis 3:15, and even more particularly in Hebrews 2:14-15 – “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” Jesus became a man to deal the deathblow to Satan, sin, the woe and misery of sin, death itself, and the pains of hell forever.

2 – Because the incarnation is permanent. The second stanza continues,

God is man, man to deliver;
His death Son now is one
with our race forever.

Jesus’ incarnate state did not cease with His death, or His ascension to glory. He remains a man, and the dust of earth sits upon the throne of glory. He knows intimately what it is to be human still, and so can sympathize with us in our weaknesses. When the eternal Son of God took on human nature, He was affirming the goodness of our humanity, and He was assuring us that we too will live an embodied existence for all eternity. Though the intermediate state is disembodied, our souls being with Jesus while our bodies rest in the grave till the resurrection, yet for eternity we will walk on a new earth with our Savior.

3 – Because the incarnation was for the purpose of substitution. The third and fourth stanzas are rich indeed:

Shall we still dread God’s displeasure,
who, to save, freely gave
His most cherished Treasure?
To redeem us, he hath given
His own Son, from the throne
of His might in heaven.

He becomes the Lamb who taketh
sin away, and for aye [forever]
full atonement maketh.
For our life his own he tenders;
and our race, by his grace,
meet for glory renders.

We must never separate the birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus. He was born in order that He might die. He became a man not only to be like us and with us, but also to die for us, as our substitute. The incarnation is for the purpose of atoning for the sins of His people. The wages of sin is death, but God cannot die. So the only way for God to reconcile sinners to Himself was to become us them in our humanity, so that He might obey and suffer in our nature. Because Jesus has died, the beautiful truth in stanza three is ours: we have no need to fear the displeasure or anger or wrath of God, for He has poured it all out on His beloved Son in our place. He gave His greatest Treasure for us, to make us wretches His treasured possession.

4 – The incarnation meets our deepest sadness. The fifth and sixth stanza ring out,

Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
soft and sweet, doth entreat,
“Flee from woe and danger.
Brethren, from all ills that grieve you,
you are freed; all you need
I will surely give you.”

Come, then, banish all your sadness,
one and all, great and small;
come with songs of gladness.
Love him who with love is glowing;
hail the star, near and far
light and joy bestowing.

Isaiah 53:3 tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He carried our griefs and sorrows, so that we might be freed ultimately from them forever. Because Jesus was born, we have hope, joy, gladness, and light. In this world we have sorrow, for Jesus has not returned. But by His incarnation, and all that flowed from it in His ministry on earth and in heaven, our sorrows are overwhelmed by the joy He gives us. We are called to banish our sadness from our hearts, for He has freed us from the penalty and power of sin, which cause our deepest sorrow, and promises to give us all we need for life and godliness – even the gift of gladness in times of distress.

5 – The incarnation gives us hope beyond the grave. Gerhardt closes his song with these words:

Dearest Lord, thee will I cherish.
Though my breath fail in death,
yet I shall not perish,
but with thee abide forever
there on high, in that joy
which can vanish never.

As those who trust in Christ Jesus the incarnate Word of God, we have absolute confidence that when we die, we will be with Him forever. And beyond that, as we have already mentioned above, we too will have a resurrected body on the last day. “He will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body or His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21). And so with this confidence we rejoice with exceedingly great joy, now and forevermore.

Suffering and Psalm 63

If you are suffering today, or this week, or this year, and you haven’t spent time in Psalm 63 recently, I encourage you to do it! David’s words are refreshingly realistic and filled with hope and God-centered joy in the midst of dryness and weariness. On the Desiring God website, staff writer Marshall Segal has written a helpful meditation upon this psalm entitled, “The Joy We Know Only in Suffering.” Make use of it as you walk through the wildernesses. God is present even there, and our longing for Him demonstrates how satisfying He is.

Thanks to ruling elder Adam Adcock for recommending this article.