This is the only hymn or carol that will get three entries. It’s not that there aren’t great texts in the others – as we’ve clearly seen, there are! But this hymn is so rich in the weaving together of nativity and passion, song and scripture, that I really wanted each stanza to receive its own due.
The remarkable imagery in the first half of the stanza comes from Malachi 4, the final chapter of the Old Testament. In this chapter – the last time the people of God will hear anything from the Lord for the next 400 years – there is a promise: God will vindicate his people. Those who have been faithful will be remembered on the great and coming Day of the Lord:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven,
when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.
The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts,
so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
But for you who fear my name,
the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.
You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
(Malachi 4:1-2 ESV)
Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail the sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings.
The second half of the stanza equates the keeping of this promise with the birth of Jesus. It explains the reason for his birth, which as I hope you’ve seen by now, is to die. Because only by his death is it possible that we no more may die. Only by his resurrection can he promise us that we will be raised. Only by being born again in him may we truly have life.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that we no more may die,
Born to raise each child of earth,
Born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king!”
The final thing this hymn does – in each of the three stanzas, is call us to give glory to the newborn King. Glory! A great word that pretty much sums up the reason for our existence. Let’s talk about that tomorrow, shall we?