A friend and colleague suggested that his favorite communion hymn is LSB 372, O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is. I must admit that I had not thought much about either the idea of a favorite distribution hymn or this Christmas hymn as a distribution hymn. But he is clearly correct.
O Jesus Christ,
Thy manger is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O Lord,
Doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; herein Thy grace forth shineth.
He whom the sea
And wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God's own Son,
With us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.
Thy light and grace
Our guilt efface,
Thy heav'nly riches all our loss retrieving.
Thy birth doth quell
The pow'r of hell and Satan's bold deceiving.
Thou Christian heart,
Whoe'er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee!
For God's own Child,
In mercy mild,
Joins thee to Him; how greatly God must love thee!
What glory now
The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.
The angel host
Can never boast
Of greater glory, greater bliss or gladness.
The world may hold
Her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true treasure.
To Him hold fast
Until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure.
For Paul Gerhardt the manger is not simply the place where Mary and Joseph went to deliver her first born, the familiar manger or creche with its feed bunk holding the Baby Jesus. No, it is certainly that but more in the sense of remembering an event long ago in the past of which none of us are witnesses and to which none of us may return. No, for Gerhardt the manger is not a far off image but the very present reality of the Divine Service and the Christ who comes to us in His flesh and blood under bread and wine in the Eucharist.
The manger where we find the Lord Jesus in His flesh and blood, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, buried, risen, and ascended, is the Eucharist. Our manger given by God is not made of wood but the bread that is His flesh for the life of the world and His blood that cleanses us from all sins.
Nowhere is the centrality of this all more obvious than at Christmas. We as Lutherans are very incarnational -- especially in our sacramental theology. We treat the Sacraments incarnationally. So Christ is present not according to one nature only but in the earthly element of bread wherein His flesh is given to us to eat and in the wine wherein His blood is given to us to drink drink. For this blest communion we give Him thanks and praise every bit as much as for the Bethlehem miracle of His birth, God in flesh by the Spirit and the blessed Virgin.
So now read through the words one more time and think of Gerhardt's wonderful hymn as not only a Christmas hymn but a communion hymn as well. And when you commune upon His precious body and blood this holy season of our Savior's nativity, sing the song of joy the angel's sang for Christ is born in us today by this holy and blessed Sacrament and our communion upon it.
Thanks. I don't think I've ever heard it sung in a congregational setting, but it still remains my favorite ever since reading it while thumbing through a hymnal approximately 35 years ago. It's so rich.
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