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This is the week of love and angels, so it seems only fitting to describe the invisible.
Every Christmas, a memory I rarely talk about returns— it’s hazy, a memory experienced as a longing in my heart before a dreamy recording in my head. A memory, I believe, that’s a little gift from God.
When I was in middle school I attended my older sister’s senior Christmas concert. The chamber choir my sister sang in performed a Christmas hymn written in the 1800’s. A girl opened the piece a cappella— that’s where the memory starts…and the rest is a blur.
Maybe it was the purity of her tone, her countenance, or the way the sacred sound filled the huge secular high school auditorium. Maybe it was the darkness surrounding me and the light ahead. Maybe it was the very the presence of God. It sounds incredibly cheesy, but I like to think angels were dancing and that they dance often when our God is being exalted. I was enraptured and I’m still enraptured as I sit in the memory again and hear the composition by Christina Georgina Rossetti beam into the darkness:
Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, Love divine;
worship we our Jesus,
but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
love be yours and love be mine;
love to God and others,
love for plea and gift and sign.
I wish…I wish I could bring you there. I don’t know what you feel, if anything, when you read those words. Maybe you hear them. Maybe you’re disappointed— really, that’s the persistent memory?
I know, it’s a fairly popular song.
And, love is a popular word.
Love is a common word— it is easy to read without clinging to the mystery.
Maybe the reason this memory is so precious is because when the word “love” hit the air it didn’t sound common at all— it was sacred, abundant.
As I look at the song again in its entirety I’m struck by the way the song progresses and yet seems circular. The third verse ends with love for plea and gift and sign…it ends with what God has done for us, which is right where the song begins.
Each verse like a step in a three step dance that we repeat over and over again with our God.
If Christina came up with these steps herself, we might have reason to be skeptical, but her hymn echoes the truth of the Word. I see strong parallels to 1 John 4:9-12,19:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us… We love because he first loved us.
Here is the dance:
1. The first approach, the extended hand: There He is— Love, all lovely, Love divine.
Holy and wholly lovely. Wholly divine.
Christ’s all-loving and all-lovely step toward us. It happens once, but doesn’t it also happen over and over? Christ’s pursuit— His initiation through the lavishing of love.
2. The second verse is a response to His deep love— worship we our Jesus.
Our Jesus. Possessive, intimate— love given and love received. Not stark, cool love— relational love. He is not just a historical figure and He is not a lofty idea. He is our Jesus, my Jesus.
The verse ends with a question that probably seems a bit confusing: But wherewith for sacred sign?
I interpret this as by which sacred sign shall we worship Him?
Christina Georgina Rossetti answers her question in the final verse of the hymn.
3. Love shall be our token.
Not only love to God, but love to others.
Our love is not something meant to remain in our hearts. Love is our token— the outward expression of the heart’s response.
One, God’s loving approach
Two, Intimate and love-filled worship
Three, Outward expressions of love for God and others
Can you hear it on repeat in your soul?
Will you put your hand in Jesus’ hand and follow Him?
He came to earth as a baby, but He reigns as omniscient, omnipotent King— a King inviting you into what He came for and died for. Life and love to the fullest.
I hope you have a very merry Christmas!