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What is your favorite hymn? Is it “Crown Him With Many Crowns?” Is it, “Amazing Grace”? Did you know that, depending on your Christian tradition, you may have never sung all the verses to your favorite hymns?

I consider myself a bit of a denominational nomad, as over my 36 years I have been in 8 different denominations. Throughout that journey, I have noticed how certain hymnals leave out verses from some hymns. For instance, there are 12 verses of “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, but depending on your hymnal, you may have only sung 5 or 6 of those verses. This means that you may be singing certain verses at your church, while the church down the street sings different verses of the same song!

One of these examples comes from the famous Christmas hymn, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, written by Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. The hymn was originally written with five verses, and then edited down to four verses by Whitefield later. Many hymnals, such as the red Baptist Hymnal of 1991, only include the first three verses and thus exclude the fourth verse.

This discrepancy was highlighted mid-service in a recent worship gathering at my church. I started at my church in May, and so I had not led worship during the Christmas season yet. As we approached the sermon, we loudly joined our voices to sing, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

I had been singing that verse for decades, and yet the majority at this church had never even heard of it!

I led the song but I included the fourth verse. After the following prayer, the Lead Pastor came on stage for the sermon and said, “I’ve never heard that fourth verse before!” I explained it was simply the fourth and final verse of the hymn, but they had never sung it there before. He then asked for a show of hands from the congregation of how many people had ever sung that verse. To my own surprise, out of nearly 500 people (over 2 services), only around 10 people had ever sung it!

I had been singing that verse for decades, and yet the majority at this church had never even heard of it!

It made me think that if most of my church had never heard the verse, perhaps it is safe to say that many others had never either. This final and often neglected verse of “Hark!” is a treasure trove of great Christology and gospel hope, and so let’s look at this seemingly “forgotten” verse together.

My prayer is that contemplating these powerful lyrics will enrichen our Advent reflections and will enhance your Christmas gatherings.

The Forgotten Verse

Come Desire of nations come, fix in us Thy humble home.”

This line seemingly quotes Haggai 2:7 from the King James Version (which would have been used by Wesley) which says, “And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.” This verse states that Christ is the desire of all nations, regardless of whether they recognize His Lordship over them or not. One of the Christmas truths that this hymn encourages us to dwell on is that although Christ came as an infant, He now rules and reigns over all nations as King (Psalm 22:28).

All peoples, tribes, and tongues are made in the image of God and are created to have an innate (though shadowed by sin) desire for this King to rule (Rom. 1:18-30; Acts 17:26-27). The same sentiment is shared in the famous Advent hymn ‘Come Thou Long Expectant Jesus’, which says, “Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” One day, all nations will walk by the light of the rule of Christ (Rev. 20:24). This is part of the great hope we have in Christmas, even amidst great political threat towards the Church in Canada.

When governments appear to turn their hands against Christianity, we know that Jesus is the desire of nations.

“Rise the woman’s conqu’ring seed, bruise in us the serpent’s head.”

This harkens (pun intended) back to the great protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 which says, “And of your offspring and her Descendant; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.” This line beckons us to contemplate how Christ came to defeat Satan’s death grip on mankind, and that Christ will again return to vanquish Satan permanently. Christ has won and WILL win. Yes, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8).

But death, disease, sickness, war, and upheaval are the “Hail Mary” of a dying and defeated foe. Jesus is the conquering seed, and though the serpent may bruise, he is powerless to beat us (Rom. 8:31).

Do you believe that? Do your Facebook posts, your Tweets, and your conversations reveal a deep-seated fear, or do they reveal that you believe that Christ is conquering?

“Adam’s likeness now efface, stamp Thine image in its place.”

We are reminded here that Adam’s rebellion has marred the entire human race, and sin has blemished and scarred our divinely originated image. However, the triumphant Christmas hope is that Christ has come to heal, restore and replace the sin-stained likeness from our forefather Adam with His own. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:49 that, Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Sin has caused great confusion about our identity as humans, and our God-given dignity and design have been veiled by brokenness and rebellion. This is what we have inherited from Adam – rebellion and confusion! How we long to see those we love, who are confused and lost, to have Adam’s likeness replaced with the image of Christ! It is only in Christ that we might find restoration, healing, and return to our true design and purpose. Christmas is not only about God with us, it is about Christ IN us.

“Second Adam from above, reinstate us in Thy love.”

This verse paraphrases the Apostle Paul, who refers to Christ as the ‘Second Adam’ twice in the NT. In Romans 5:19, Paul says, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” In 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, the Apostle Paul says, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Where Adam failed and barred us from a good relationship with God, Christ succeeded to reinstate us to a full loving relationship with Him. What hope this brings to a dark and confused world that cries out for reconciliation to God! This is the ministry of reconciliation we are called to (2 Cor. 5:11-21), and Christmas gives us ample opportunity to proclaim the love of God for this world.

“Hark the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King.”

I am thankful to Wesley and Whitefield for this fourth verse. There is such wonderfully rich theology bound within these few lines, and they call us to contemplate all that Christ has done through His incarnation. He has reinstated us to God! He has stamped His image on us! He has defeated and will conquer Satan, our foe! What hope it brings when we look around us and see the confusion around gender and sexuality.

What confidence when we see political turmoil and chaos! This Christmas, I would encourage Christians to sing this with their families around the dinner table and to discuss these truths.

Pastors, I would encourage you to edify your congregations by not only singing this verse but also teaching on it as well. It will surely enrichen your Advent and Christmas reflections, and it will bring a new fresh of thinking about Christmas.

May the Lord enrich you and our congregations through this.

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