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Words: William Walsham How (b. Dec. 13, 1823; d. Aug. 10, 1897)
Music: Eifionydd, by John Ambrose Lloyd, Sr. (b. Jun 14, 1815; d. Nov. 14, 1874
Note: William Walsham How was an Anglican bishop in England. The Wordwise Hymns link will tell you more about him. This hymn was written in 1867, the same year in which Canada became a nation. The Welsh hymn tune is well suited to the text.
Newborn babies are limited in what they can do. They can’t go anywhere on their own, or clothe themselves. They can’t focus their eyes properly, can’t even hold their heads up without support, or articulate their needs–beyond crying because something feels wrong. They are weak and vulnerable, and require a lot of patient, loving care.
For the animals it’s often quite different. Dolphins are born swimming, calves and colts are soon up on their feet moving about, ducks and turkeys are ready to leave the nest in a couple of days. But for human babies, these things take months, or even years. They are notable for their virtual helplessness.
When we turn to Bible, we learn that “children are a heritage from the Lord” (Ps. 127:3). By extension, their care then becomes a God-given responsibility. We see that with Moses, born at a time when the people of Israel were in slavery in Egypt. Male Hebrew babies were being killed by royal edict, but Moses’ parents hid him and provided for his protection (Exod. 2:1-9).
When the Israelites were called together to worship the Lord, or hear instruction from His Word, their little ones were brought along (Josh. 8:35; II Chron. 20:13; Joel 2:16). Practically speaking, this was because, since everyone was to attend, there was no one left to care for them. But it also sets a worthy precedent for today. Children need to be taught early on to attend the house of God on the Lord’s Day. Regular church attendance should be a family affair.
In the Gospels, we see the love and compassion of the Lord Jesus for children and infants (Mk. 10:13-16; Lk. 18:15). And the same tender care is represented in Isaiah’s poetic imagery concerning Christ’s second coming (Isa. 40:10-11), when He will return to reign as King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Given who He is, and how He will one day reveal Himself in glory, it is remarkable that the Lord began His earthly life as a baby, a weak and vulnerable infant (Lk. 2:11;14). The Word of God tells us that the One born in Bethlehem had existed from all eternity (Mic. 5:2) and, as the second Person of the triune Godhead, He was involved in the creation of all things (Jn. 1:1, 3). Yet He willingly humbled Himself in this way.
But there is more. During His years of earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus demonstrated His power over the raging storms of the Sea of Galilee (Mk. 4:39), over demon powers (Lk. 4:33-35), over disease (Lk. 4:40), and over death itself (Jn. 11:33-34). Yet there came a day when Christ allowed a rabid mob to seize Him, rush Him through an illegal trial, and nail Him to a cross–even though, at His bidding, twelve legions of angels could have been summoned to His defense (Matt. 26:53).
Since “the wages of sin is death,” it was only through His substitutionary death that Christ, the eternal Son of God, could become our Saviour (Rom. 6:23). In love, He gave Himself up to die in order to pay our debt of sin (Jn. 3:16; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 1:7), then rose again, triumphant over death (I Cor. 15:3-4).
This combination of humanity and deity, of utter weakness and helplessness with the sovereign ability to wield infinite power, was captured in a wonderful hymn by William Walsham How. It’s another of those songs that I wish were found in many more of our hymnals.
CH-1) Who is this, so weak and helpless,
Child of lowly Hebrew maid,
Rudely in a stable sheltered,
Coldly in a manger laid?
’Tis the Lord of all creation,
Who this wondrous path hath trod;
He is God from everlasting,
And to everlasting God.
CH-2) Who is this, a man of sorrows,
Walking sadly life’s hard way,
Homeless, weary, sighing, weeping,
Over sin and Satan’s sway?
’Tis our God, our glorious Saviour,
Who above the starry sky
Now for us a place prepareth,
Where no tear can dim the eye.
CH-3) Who is this? Behold Him shedding
Drops of blood upon the ground!
Who is this, despised, rejected,
Mocked, insulted, beaten, bound?
’Tis our God, who gifts and graces
On His church now poureth down;
Who shall smite in righteous judgment
All His foes beneath His throne.
CH-4) Who is this that hangeth dying
While the rude world scoffs and scorns,
Numbered with the malefactors,
Torn with nails, and crowned with thorns?
’Tis the God who ever liveth,
’Mid the shining ones on high,
In the glorious golden city,
1) What does it tell you about the Lord Jesus that He willing submitted to this double humbling, in both birth and death?
2) What is our proper response to such a One?