Glory be to God on high,

And peace on earth descend;

God comes down: he bows the sky:

And shews himself our friend!

God th’invisible appears,

God the blest, the great I AM

Sojourns in this vale of tears,

And Jesus is his name.


Him the angels all ador’d

Their Maker and their King:

Tidings of their humbled Lord

They now to mortals bring:

Emptied of his majesty,

Of his dazzling glories shorn,

Being’s source begins to be,

And God himself is BORN!


See th’eternal Son of God

A mortal Son of man,

Dwelling in an earthy clod

Whom heaven cannot contain!

Stand amaz’d ye heavens at this!

See the Lord of earth and skies!

Humbled to the dust he is,

And in a manger lies!


We the sons of men rejoice,

The Prince of Peace proclaim,

With heaven’s host lift up our voice,

And shout Immanuel’s name;

Knees and hearts to him we bow;

Of our flesh, and of our bone

Jesus is our brother now,

And God is all our own!


Published in Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord (1745), this is one of Charles Wesley’s boldest hymns on the Incarnation, capturing the divinity and humanity of Jesus through a series of daring contrasts. While its initial impetus comes from St Luke’s account of the Nativity, Wesley characteristically draws on a wide range of other scriptural sources. The influence of Philippians 2.5-11 is particularly prevalent, as he describes Christ’s humility in verses 2 and 3. The first verse looks back to Exodus 3.14, where Moses receives the revelation of God’s name, “I AM”, which Wesley links unequivocally to the Christ Child. This is re-emphasised at the beginning of the third verse, where he is described as “th’eternal Son of God”. The paradoxes of the text are startlingly bold: the invisible God appears, the God whom heaven cannot hold is laid in a manger, and God in Christ is both eternal and mortal. Most audacious, though, is the final couplet of verse 2: “Being’s source begins to be, / and God himself is BORN!” Here, Wesley’s capacity for expressing profound theological truths in simple and succinct verse is demonstrated as powerfully as anywhere in his whole literary output. The wonder of the text, though, is that while we are reeling at the enormity of God’s incarnation, we are reassured in the most familiar terms: “Jesus is our brother now.” While the boldness of the incarnational theology contained in Wesley’s better-known “Hark! The herald-angels sing” can easily be overlooked through familiarity, this text challenges us to confront afresh the holy mystery of the Nativity through the simplicity of its language and the density of its contrasts. We begin to appreciate the magnitude of God’s intervention as we kneel before the manger in homage to the fragile baby who is God Himself.

Martin Clarke