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The Infant Priest Was Holy Born

June 23, 2009

Since I last posted I served as conference musician for the Mid-South District (LCMS) Convention, drove to Michigan, loaded my car full (and I mean full) of baby stuff, and drove back.  So, now it’s back to the hymns.

This week I want to talk about “The Infant Priest Was Holy Born” (LSB 624).  The text is by Chad Bird (b. 1970), with the tune (ROCKINGHAM OLD) from a London hymnal of 1778.  This hymn comes from the Lord’s Supper section of Lutheran Service Book, and rightly so.  I especially like to sing this hymn during the Christmas season, but I think it is appropriate anytime during the church year.

What I particularly love about this hymn is the vivid imagery that Bird uses.  Take the first stanza as an example: The infant Priest was holy born For us unholy and forlorn; From fleshly temple forth came He, Anointed from eternity. In this one stanza we have the idea that Christ is our Priest and was born a truly human birth, while still being eternally begotten of the Father.  In addition, our unholiness is contrasted with His holiness, and our hopeless condition is said to be forlorn, which is a very accurate description of fallen man.

Stanza three tells the story of the Crucifixion: The holy Lamb undaunted came To God’s own altar lit with flame; While weeping angels hid their eyes, This Priest became a sacrifice. The image of angels weeping brings to mind the earthquake and darkness as our Lord died.  All of creation was shaken when God died upon the cross.  But that is not the end.  Stanza four: But death would not the victor be Of Him who hung upon the tree.  He leads us to the Holy Place Within the veil, before God’s face. It is death for a sinful human to look upon God’s face.  But Christ now leads us through the veil of sin and death and into the holiness of His Father, interceding for us at the throne of God.  We are completely passive, for “He leads us to the Holy Place.”  We cannot go into the Holy Place alone without dying; that much is clear from the Old Testament.  God’s holiness is no trifling matter and we would do well to remember that.  It is only through the death and resurrection of Christ that we can approach God.  Indeed, “Since then we have a great high priest…let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Stanza five shows us that this same Christ is with us every time we receive our Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar: The veil is torn, our Priest we see, As at the rail on bended knee Our hungry mouths from Him receive The bread of immortality.” The next stanza tells just what we are receiving: The body of God’s Lamb we eat, A priestly food and priestly meat; On sin-parched lips the chalice pours His quenching blood that life restores. Yes, it is a strange and wondrous thought that we are eating the true body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but that is what He says it is.

And so, because of all the wondrous gifts that Christ has given to us, we echo the words of the Sanctus: With cherubim and seraphim Our voices join the endless hymn, And “Holy, holy, holy” sing To Christ, God’s Lamb, our Priest and King. Amen!

The Infant Priest Was Holy Born –  LSB 624

1 The infant Priest was holy born
For us unholy and forlorn;
From fleshly temple forth came He,
Anointed from eternity.

2 This great High Priest in human flesh
Was icon of God’s righteousness.
His hallowed touch brought sanctity;
His hand removed impurity.

3 The holy Lamb undaunted came
To God’s own altar lit with flame;
While weeping angels hid their eyes,
This Priest became a sacrifice.

4 But death would not the victor be
Of Him who hung upon the tree.
He leads us to the Holy Place
Within the veil, before God’s face.

5 The veil is torn, our Priest we see,
As at the rail on bended knee
Our hungry mouths from Him receive
The bread of immortality.

6 The body of God’s Lamb we eat,
A priestly food and priestly meat;
On sin-parched lips the chalice pours
His quenching blood that life restores.

7 With cherubim and seraphim
Our voices join the endless hymn,
And “Holy, holy, holy” sing
To Christ, God’s Lamb, our Priest and King.

© 1997, 2003 Chad L. Bird. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License .NET, no. 100011479.

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From → Church Music, Hymns

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