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Words: William Harold Neidlinger (b. July 20, 1863; d. Dec. 5, 1924)
Music: William Harold Neidlinger
Note: The Wordwise Hymns link has a short (but interesting) biographical note on Neidlinger. He wrote both the words and music of the carol, and it was published in 1890.
Often our appreciation of something, can be enhanced when it is contrasted with other things. That applies to the Christmas story. Think of the contrast between Jerusalem and little Bethlehem. One would think that the King would be born in Jerusalem, the bustling capital. That’s what the wise men must have concluded (Matt. 2:1-2). But though Bethlehem was a relatively obscure village, God had long ago chosen it as the place of His Son’s birth (Mic. 5:2).
Think of the contrast between a warm bed in the inn, where Joseph and Mary hoped to cradle the newborn Child, and the manger of hay where He was laid, when there was “no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:7). Think of Christ being lauded by angels and hated by deceitful Herod (Lk. 2:11, 14; Matt. 2:13). Think of homage being paid to Him not by kings and princes, but by shepherds and wise men (Lk. 2:16, 20; Matt. 2:11). (The wise men were magi, or astrologers, not “kings,” as the carol We Three Kings suggests.)
Finally, think of the Son of God stooping in profound humility to become Man, and the One born to be King of kings being rejected and crucified. And think of One born in relative obscurity whose gospel of salvation is now proclaimed to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). The Bible sums up the gospel this way: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (II Cor. 8:9).
In old time photography, a picture produced by a chemical reaction on sensitive film begins as a negative that had to go through a further step to become a positive image. In a negative, all the parts of the picture that will eventually become dark appear to be light, and all the parts of the picture that will ultimately be light appear to be dark. So it is with the first coming of Christ. The darkness of evil in the hearts of His enemies led them to call for His crucifixion. But the head that once was crowned with thorns will one day wear a diadem of honour, shining in the glory light of heaven.
Concerning His kingly reign, Christ is now, in a sense, the King in waiting. In that character He resembles His human ancestor, David. It was several years after young David was anointed by Samuel (I Sam. 16:1, 13), before he ascended the throne of Israel. Christ’s messianic reign over the kingdoms of earth has been prophesied, but He was rejected at His first coming. He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, awaiting the day when He returns in triumph to reign (cf. Acts 2:32-36).
Consider what the Bible says about Christ the King:
¤ Matthew begins his Gospel by proclaiming “Jesus Christ [as] the Son [descendant] of David,” Israel’s greatest king (Matt. 1:1).
¤ Mary was told about His coming reign, even before His miraculous conception (Lk. 1:31-33).
¤ Some time after His birth, the wise men came to pay homage to Him as “King of the Jews,” whom they desired to worship (Matt. 2:2, 11).
¤ Nathanael addressed Him as “the King of Israel” (Jn. 1:49).
¤ The people proclaimed Him “King of the Jews” at His triumphal entry, which was itself a fulfilment of prophecy about the King (Jn. 12:13; cf. Zech. 9:9).
¤ Jesus Himself acknowledged that He was indeed the King of the Jews (Matt. 27:11).
¤ Even when He was crowned with thorns and crucified, Pilate stubbornly insisted that the inscription above His cross read, “the King of the Jews” Jn. 19:19-22).
¤ After His ascension, the apostles identified Him as King, and anticipated His future reign (I Tim. 6:14-15; Heb. 10:12-13; cf. Rev. 19:11-16).
Meanwhile, individual believers can recognize Him as Lord of their lives, and look forward to the great day of triumph yet to come. And it is certainly true that Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was the birth of a King.
CH-1) In the little village of Bethlehem,
There lay a child one day;
And the sky was bright with a holy light
O’er the place where Jesus lay.
Alleluia! O how the angels sang.
Alleluia! How it rang!
And the sky was bright with a holy light
’Twas the birthday of a King.
CH-2) ’Twas a humble birthplace, but O how much
God gave to us that day,
From the manger bed what a path has led,
What a perfect, holy way.
1) If the Lord Jesus is truly recognized as Lord and King of our lives, what difference will that make in how we live?
2) What hymns do you know that proclaim the kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ?