What is your favorite Christmas hymn? As Pastor Grimmer and Edie and I were meeting to plan our Christmas music this year, at some point this question came up. And while it’s hard to deny the nostalgia of so many great Christmas hymns, my top two favorite Christmas hymns are Of the Father’s Love Begotten (LSB 384) and O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is (LSB 372).
You’ve probably heard Of the Father’s Love Begotten, that hauntingly beautiful hymn that Christians have been singing for over 1,600 years. But far less of us are familiar with Paul Gerhardt’s great hymn O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is.
By today’s standards, Paul Gerhardt had a tough life. Maybe everybody did in 1600s Germany. His life was marked by war, conflict, inner turmoil, employment struggles, and sickness in his own family. There was a life-sized painting of him after his death under which is written these words: “A theologian sifted in Satan’s sieve.“ Although he had every reason to be as crass and rough as Luther, Paul Gerhard is known for his simple, beautiful, thoroughly Christ-centered poetry. One thing I love about his hymns is that they tell the story of Jesus.
Why do I like this hymn? For Paul Gerhardt, the manger is not a soft-lit sentimental stable with ox and cattle provide their warmth. Nor is it a footnote in history. For Gerhardt, the manger of Jesus Christ is a very present reality.
The manger is where we find the Lord Jesus in His flesh and blood, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, buried, risen, and ascended. The way Gerhardt paints it, the manger that God gives to us is not found in a stable 2,000 years ago but the bread that is His flesh for the life of the world and His blood that cleanses us from all sins. If you want to find Jesus, look on the altar.
O Jesus Christ, thy manger is My paradise at which my soul reclineth for there O Lord, doth lie the Word Made flesh for us; herein thy grace forth shineth.
No time but in Christmas do we get this kind of a focus. At Christmas, we celebrate the coming Jesus into the world for us. He’s come to save us from our Sins. To give Himself to us.
Verse 2 talks about how this Jesus who commands the wind and the sea in great power comes to serve us in great meekness, joining us in our weakness. Later in the hymn, Paul speaks to you and all Christians. He says this:
O Christian heart, whoe’er thou art, Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee. For God’s own Child, in mercy mild, Joins thee to Him; how greatly God must love thee!
There is nothing in this world that Satan can throw at us that can diminish the love of Jesus. Whether like Paul it is loss of children (4 of them!), loss of a spouse, loss of a job because of the Christian Faith, the plague, or whatever else, remember this: Our Lord loves you so much that He sent His own Son to be our brother and to die for us! Christ is our true treasure that is worth so much more than anything else in this world (verse 5). Merry Christmas indeed!