Silent Night

Our Christmas Carols are extremely influential in framing our ideas and beliefs about Christmas.  Most of the time this is a good thing.  As I sing Christmas Carols I am impressed by the clear gospel message and the statements of substantial doctrinal ideas.  In the next few days leading up to Christmas I want to point out a few of those that have impressed me this year.

Last night at our Living Nativity we sang “Silent Night”.  Here are the words:

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth ”

My understanding is that the carol began simply as a poem by Joseph Mohr that was given to Franz Gruber to put into a song in because the organ at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf Germany was broken and they needed a song to be sung with guitar.  Hence our most popular Christmas Carol was born.  Click here for a more extensive rendition of the story.

My interest was peaked this year by the last line of the song:  “…Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.”

The emphasis on the deity of Christ even at His birth is an important statement in this song.  We believe that Jesus the Son became incarnate, or took on human flesh at His birth.  He has a human beginning, but as the Son, he is eternally one with the Father and as such has no beginning.  Hence, He is Lord at His birth because He is Lord at all times.  There is no time where Jesus is not Lord.  He doesn’t earn lordship, or become the son at a particular time in His ministry (ie at His baptism).  At His birth He is fully God.  This helps us to understand later statements of Jesus that seem to impugn His divinity (No one knows the day or time, only the Father, not even the Son).  Jesus at His birth, unable to talk, with all the requisite restrictions of humanity still retains His Lordship/Divinity.

This theological construction is called the Hypostatic Union.  We believe that Jesus is one person with two natures: human and divine.  They are distinct and not mingled.  He is not some sort of hybrid, or superman.  He is fully human.  He is fully God.  He is not 50% God and 50% man; he is not a mixture of the two.  He is not a man who has some special dispensation of godliness within Him, nor is He just a good embodiment of the principles of God.

This doctrine was outlined by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

The theological terminology for the interaction of the two natures is Communicatio Idiomatum, Latin for “communication of properties”.  These doctrines are deserving of our time and study as many divergent theological positions held by aberrant Christian groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Oneness Pentecostals misunderstand and distort the truth of the nature of Christ at these points.

Silent Night got it right here:  Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth!

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