Beneath the dark, expectant skies
While crowded Bethlehem slept,
Their sleeping flocks in quiet fields
The faithful shepherds kept;
When round about them, suddenly,
There shone a glorious light,
And in the midst an angel stood,
Majestical and bright.
What mortal eye could look undazed!
What mortal ear could hear
The voice most sweet, most terrible
In sweetness, without fear?
While on the wide Judean hills
The reverent winds were stayed,
Prostrate the humble shepherds fell,
For they were sore afraid.
Fear not; behold, I bring you joy!
The angel spake and smiled;
To you this day in David’s town
Is born the promised Child;
A Savior, even Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign—
Ye in a manger lowly laid
Shall find the Babe Divine.
And with the angel, lo! a host
Of shining ones was seen,
All glory be to God,
As it hath ever been;
Glory to God, on earth be peace,
And unto men good will,
They sang, in splendor vanishing,
And all grew dark and still.
Amazed the shepherds heard, and rose
And made with haste their way
To where, within the stable walls,
The world’s Redeemer lay;
Nor wider space nor fairer place
Had earth to spare for Him
Whose throne from everlasting burned
Rayed round with seraphim.
While softly raining out of Heav’n,
In silver cadences
Flowed down those sweet angelic strains
Proclaiming joy and peace;
Her rapture swelling into tears,
The trembling Mother bent
Above her Child, her Holy One,
In awe and wonderment.
And if a cloud of radiance
Filled up the holy place,
That cloud was darkness in her eyes,
Long-dwelling on His face;
Her trancèd vision scarce withdrawn
When glad the shepherds came,
Beheld the Babe and glorified
The One Eternal Name.
And was the Word, indeed, made flesh?
O Everlasting Lord!
O Prince of Peace! O Mighty God,
Who reckoning unreckoned bliss
Cast all His glory by
When from the prison house of sin
He heard the captive cry!
O Love, that no created love
Can ever comprehend,
Outreaching life’s dark uttermost,
It bound the endless end;
It condescended to the low
From height above all height,
And bosomed in a blameless babe
Brought into darkness light!
Wherever Christmas bells shall chime
And Christmas cheer go round,
Be grateful joy—not heedless mirth—
In every dwelling found;
While faith unveils her throbbing breast
And closer folds within
The Holy Child whose sinlessness
Hath answered once for sin.
The humblest home that He may find
The poorest heart of earth,
Not meaner is than Bethlehem’s stall
Made fair by Jesus’ birth;
And light more marvelous shall stream
Into that house of clay,
Abiding and abounding more
Unto the perfect day.
Comfort to answer all desire
And soothe the sharpest pain,
A rest to weariness, and ease
To such as do complain;
Bread to the hungry, and to them
That thirst a living well,
The Savior with His neediest ones
Doth most delight to dwell.
He honoreth not the place of pride,
But seeketh lowly doors,
And love, the sweet return of love
Is all that He implores;
The love that waiting on His word
Doth evermore increase,
And magnify in daily life,
The angels’ song of peace.
Wherever Christmas greetings flow
And Christmas cheer goes round,
Let charity in gracious deeds
And gracious thoughts abound;
And Zion, garlanding her gates,
Put on her glad array,
And celebrate with palms of joy
Emmanuel’s natal day.
O Christ most high! Incarnate God!
Meek Babe of Bethlehem!
To whom all angels cry aloud,
Thy glory shadowing them,
Hear, through the praise of Heav’n, the praise
Of Thy redeemèd earth
Whose desert places yet shall sing
For joy of Jesus’ birth!