Dispelling Darkness: A Christian Paradox

by Kristin Du Mez.

Tis the season. Christmas music is everywhere.

I’m not a complete Grinch when it comes to Christmas music, but really… “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”? So much wrong with this…

I do sing Rudolf and Frosty with my kids, and I actually enjoy listening to my daughter pound out carol after carol from her beginning piano Christmas book. I especially love hearing her exclaim over the beauty of traditional lyrics for the first time.

As a historian, I suppose it makes sense that for me, the best Christmas music is historical—the older the better. There’s a real power, and even mystery, to music that joins believers across the ages, across distances of time and space, when nearly everything else separates us one from another.

One of my favorites is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” a text that may go back as far as the fifth century. I also love “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” another gorgeous ancient hymn.

And another favorite is an old Dutch song, “Come and Stand Amazed You People.” I grew up singing this one, and only recently realized that it’s an obscure song that anyone who didn’t grow up in the Christian Reformed Church, singing out of the gray psalter hymnal, is unlikely to have heard.

So allow me to introduce to you this hymn that draws on Philippians 2:6-8, Luke 2:7, and John 1:5 and 14, a song that dates back centuries.

You can listen to a modern rendition on YouTube, or simply reflect on the lyrics below:

Come and stand amazed, you people,AB Flemish nativity artstore
See how God is reconciled!
See his plans of love accomplished,
See his gift, this newborn child.

See the Mighty, weak and tender,
See the Word who now is mute.
See the Sovereign without splendor,
See the Fullness destitute.

See how humankind received him;
See him wrapped in swaddling bands,
Who as Lord of all creation
Rules the wind by his commands.

See him lying in a manger
Without sign of reasoning;

Word of God to flesh surrendered,
He is wisdom’s crown, our King.

O Lord Jesus, God incarnate,
Who assumed this humble form,
Counsel me and let my wishes
To your perfect will conform.

Light of life, dispel my darkness,
Let your frailty strengthen me;
Let your meekness give me boldness,
Let your burden set me free.

Oh, Emmanuel, my Savior,
Let Your death be life for me!

I’m drawn to the paradox here, to the profound truth that is the incarnation: the mighty, weak and tender; the Word who now is mute; a Sovereign without splendor; Fullness destitute.
I love that people—my people—have sung this across the centuries.

I like to imagine believers, facing the uncertainties of early modern life, finding solace in the power of the Almighty: Light of life, dispel my darkness, Let your frailty strengthen me.

Click through to read the rest of this post on The Anxious Bench blog for reflections on the history of this hymn and the kind of faith this ancient hymn points to: 

Christianity is a faith centered around the incarnation, the greatest paradox. It is about divesting of power, not claiming power. Of emptying oneself. Of sacrificial love.

This Christmas season, may these words be a prayer for all followers of Christ:

O Lord Jesus, God incarnate,
Who assumed this humble form,
Counsel me and let my wishes
To your perfect will conform.

Light of life, dispel my darkness,
Let your frailty strengthen me;
Let your meekness give me boldness,
Let your burden set me free.

Click through to read this post in its entirety on The Anxious Bench.

Kristin Du Mez is associate professor of history at Calvin and teaches courses in recent America, US social and cultural history, and Gender Studies. Her book A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism was recently published with Oxford University Press. Follow her on Twitter @kkdumez.

About historicalhorizons

The blog of the Calvin College History Department
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