From Blog and Mablog by Douglas Wilson:
Bethlehem was the opening gambit in the last campaign of a long war. Many centuries after our father Adam had first plunged our race into the insanity of sin, God finally made His opening move. Jesus Christ, born of a woman, born under law, was born to fulfill every one of the numerous promises that God had made during our long night.
At the beginning of our world, scarcely had our race fallen into sin and darkness but our Father God promised that the seed of the woman would have vengeance upon the serpent, promising us a glorious deliverance. And so, for long ages, the faithful looked ahead to that undefined day—figuring, studying, mentally groping, but fundamentally trusting. What form would the dragon slayer take? What form would the serpent worm have in the day when his head was finally to be crushed?
The servants of God, earthly and celestial both, were well aware of the great obstacles, but knew at the same time that the wisdom of God was far greater than any obstacle. But although they knew this, the campaign plans were still beyond classified. The apostle Peter describes it this way:
“Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:10-12).
It has always been like this. Our good God, our overflowing God, our God of yes and amen, has always been able to promise far more than we are able to believe. I am not here speaking of unbelief, or of hard hearts, which is another problem. I am speaking here of a true and sincere faith, a God-given faith, but one which is still finite, and which God loves to bury under an avalanche of promises. We serve and worship the God who overwhelms, who delights to overwhelm. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore—a cascading waterfall of infinite pleasures, with no top, no bottom, no back, no front, and no sides. Nothing but infinite pleasure in motion, and every one of those pleasures attached to His promises.
What does the apostle Paul tell us about the salvation that this God would introduce into our history, into our story?
“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:6-11).
Because these promises stagger us, we have developed a workaround, something to keep us from feeling the crushing weight of God’s promised goodness to our world. That workaround consists of pushing the fulfillment of His promises out past the day of resurrection, safely storing them all in a time when we are allowed not to think about it. But this passage from Paul is not talking about the eternal state. It has nothing to do with the eternal state. He lived in the third chapter, we lived in the tenth chapter, and he was talking about the fifteenth chapter. He was not talking about the next book, the one we shall all read in the resurrection. These are promises concerning our future history.
And so it is always thus—our poets and seers see more than we do. They write poems and hymns, they write carols that are uninspired, but are still prophetic utterances nonetheless. Just as Isaiah spoke far beyond what he could grasp, so also did Wesley. Just as the Jews memorized and chanted the words of Isaiah, words that were beyond their grasp, so also we have memorized carols that speak of the depth of glory that is coming, and we are always singing out of our depth. We are not singing about what will happen after the resurrection. We sing about the years to come, here, in our midst. We are singing about promises and blessings that will overtake our children’s children.
I do not say this by way of chiding or blame. As we have noted, the apostle Paul said that it was designed this way—eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him. Do you love Him? Then brace yourself, and sing to a world that needs to brace itself.
We were in desperate straits. Christ came to “ransom captive Israel” and to “disperse the gloomy clouds of night.” In our insolence, we were “doomed by law to endless woe” and were necessarily and justly to “the dreadful gulf below.” But this darkness we had created was invaded by the heavenly host, “Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way,” and the night above the shepherds lit up as though a lightning bolt had refused to go out, had refused to stop shining. The road was weary, but now we may urge others to “rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.” We needed this salvation just as He gave it. “O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know.” The God who knows our frame timed it perfectly.
And so the ache was healed. “In Bethlehem, in Israel, this blessed babe was born.” This was “Israel’s strength and consolation,” He was the “dear desire of every nation.” “Now He shines, the long expected,” and “glories stream from heaven afar.”
All creation is summoned to rejoice. He is the “high born King of ages”—”Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” Nothing whatever is excluded; we invite “all that grows beneath the shining of the moon and burning sun” to join in our praise. This gospel is proclaimed, and the antiphon is sung by the “mountains in reply.” All of it bursts forth—both “heav’n and nature sing.” This is right and fitting because “he comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” All cursed things may sing this blessing.
The nations are gathered before Him. On behalf of those nations, He is “ris’n with healing in His wings,” and so we summon all the nations to join us. “Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies.” Africa, come! We urge the Far East not to tarry. South America, behold your Lord. And we beseech our own nations to repent our apostasies and turn back to Him again. This is not optional; the poets have commanded it. “He makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness.” The saints of God are therefore insistent. “Powers, dominions, bow before Him,” as we declare “honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory.” We lean into the future expectantly, looking forward to the time, “when with the ever circling years, comes round the age of gold.”
“With the dawn of redeeming grace,” what is the only possible response? We gather to “hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,” and however high the thanksgiving is, the object of our praise is higher still. “Come, peasant, king, to own Him.” We praise Him, and He calls us—”calls you one and calls you all, to gain His everlasting hall.” And in the skies above that everlasting hall, the ascending hymns fill up “the endless day.”
Indeed . . .
“Nor eye hath seen, nor ear
Hath yet attained to hear
What there is ours.”
“O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”
Amen, and amen. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen again.