Second, the Babe is also “the silent Word,” “the Word made flesh” (verse 2, lines 3, 7). He is the eternal One who was pros ton theon (John 1:1), a Greek phrase that means “with God” or “toward God.” He who was face-to-face with God became flesh to be face-to-face with us. Only One who is truly God can reconcile us to God. Yet only One who becomes flesh can substitute for us. Wonder of wonders, One who was face-to-face with God and man, truly God and truly man, has come to save us. Is it any surprise that we are called to tremble with awe (verse 2, line 3)?
But why this sense of awe? The answer lies in Dix’s second question.
“why lies he in such mean estate?”
Verse 2 further explains this mystery of the Word made flesh. In verse 1, the Babe lies “on Mary’s lap.” But in verse 2, He lies “where ox and ass are feeding” (verse 2, line 2). He lies in a wooden manger, as though prophetic of the day when He would be stretched on a wooden cross and “nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you” (verse 2, lines 5–6).
Here we are brought—at Christmastime—to the heart of the gospel: Christ died for us. Here Dix says verbally what Johann Sebastian Bach said musically in his Christmas Oratorio when he set the words “O LORD, how shall I meet thee, how welcome thee aright?” to the melody of “O sacred Head sore wounded, with grief and shame weighed down.” The stable points forward to the Place of the Skull; the manger makes sense only at the cross.
This is why the final verse bids us enthrone Christ in our hearts, give Him gifts that are fit for our King, and sing His praises during Advent season.
This Christmas hymn—like many others—has one major omission. There is no mention of Joseph, the man God entrusted with the care, protection, nurture, and education of the Word made flesh. Perhaps in Dix’s case this is significant. His father, a physician, was also, sadly, an alcoholic and abandoned the family when Dix was young, leaving all the attendant emotional scars. If this helps explain why Joseph is not present with shepherds, wise men, and Mary, nevertheless the hymn closes with a reminder that there is hope. For to all who trust Him, “the King of kings salvation brings” (verse 3, line 3). The Christ of Christmas offers Himself as an all-sufficient Savior to all who have needs, to all who feel lost and are without hope. Through faith in Him, they too can sing:
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.