Editor’s note: We’re spending the month of December taking a deep dive into some of our favorite Christmas songs. Watch as The King’s University’s Dr. Daniel Davis explains the history and the significance of these songs, which are performed by students in TKU’s Worship Leadership program.
For more than a thousand years, God’s faithful people have gathered in churches, monasteries, and homes to open their day in prayer. Every single morning they are greeted with these words: “Venite adoremus! Come, let us adore Him!” It is a summons to the people of God rise and re-orient themselves in a posture of worship of the glorious God of all.
We need to drop any ideas we have that this is a burdensome or toilsome task. The summons to worship is a joyful one. Venite adoremus is inspired by a much older text, sacred to Christians and Jews, Psalm 95 which says in part: “Come let us sing to the Lord, let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God and a great King above all gods… come let us worship and bow down and kneel before the LORD our maker. For He is our God and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand…”
Venite adoremus is a delightful summons. Think of what it is to adore. Lovers adore one another – and like doing it. Children adore their parents, and parents adore their children. To adore is a desirable thing. We all adore someone or something. When we lack someone worthy of adoration, we sink into gloom and depression. We want someone to lift our spirits by the mere worth of their being. Who they are stirs our ardor so much that we adore them. Without it, we are left cold.
These are the words that form the basis of that classic Christmas carol, “O Come, All Ye Faithful!” Just like the Venite Psalm, it is marked with jubilance. The invitation to come and adore the new-born Jesus is a joyful one.
What is the ground of our adoration? The hymn gives us much to ponder in that regard. Here in lowly Bethlehem is born in the flesh the King of angels. What a wonder! Heaven and earth are to be united under the headship of a human! Our material existence is not some hated mode to be gladly shuffled off in favor of a disembodied free-floating hovering amongst invisible intelligences. No. The invisible and the visible are to be united. Human experience has become the grounds for heavenly traffic and place where God can be known.
This brings us to the best news yet in the song: “Yea, Lord, we greet Thee. Born this happy morning… Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” For long ages, Israel honored the Word of the Father received at Sinai and repeated by poets and prophets. For centuries, they looked in hope to a king who would bring the promised righteous rule. Now the Word of the Father has come in a way that makes clear all that was said before. When we hear this infant’s cry, there can be no doubt what the thunder on Sinai meant: God has chosen to be with us. That is the meaning of the name of this child, Immanuel: God-with-us. God long ago picked His home and has never changed His mind.
We all have the experience of “picking teams” on the school playground. Some of us know what it is like to be picked first and some to be picked last. Some maybe know both. We also know what it is like to be picked to be on the best team – the ones with the best athletes that are bound to win. When you’re picked, you feel valued and if you’re picked by the good team, you feel doubly valued along with the thrill of a certain win. That’s what this is like. “Word of the Father now in flesh appearing.” God has picked His team, and we are on it! We have been chosen to be on the winning team.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that in Christ all the promises of God are “Yes and Amen.” On Christmas, that “Yes and Amen” is made visible in the babe. Cooing in that manger, the Father’s Word is clearly heard: “Yes!” He looks at His creation and says, “Yes.” He looks at broken unfaithful humanity and says, “Yes.” He looks at you and me, with our ups and downs, our temptations, our failures, our successes, our abusive experiences, our brokenness, our hopes, and He says, “YES! Yes, you. YOU are on my team!” Friends, the Father’s Word is here and it is loud and clear: “My home is with humankind, and their home is with Me.” That is why we come “joyful and triumphant.” We are coming home! Home, where we are forever held safe. Home, where we are known and loved. Home where we have a place at the table that no one can take. Home where we are welcomed with angel songs, the laughter of saints, and the joy of the Lord. We have come home. Home has come to us. O come, let us adore Him!