The concept often referred to as the humiliation of God the Son—the notion that the second person of the Trinity emptied himself of the full manifestation of His glorious divinity, left his privileged position in heaven, veiled himself in human flesh, and dwelt among his creatures as one of them—is one of the most wonderfully incomprehensible concepts Christians contemplate this, or any other, time of the year.
While all hymns associated with advent express this theme, some do so rather implicitly while others are more explicit. Of the latter group, “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” is a somewhat lesser known, but excellent example.
Written in 1851 by Edward Caswa ll, an Anglican priest who later converted to Catholicism, it is sung with the John Goss tune “Humility” which seems to have been composed specifically for this text.
Of particular interest is stanza two which vividly depicts the “the equality with God” (Philippians 2:5-10) to which Christ refused to cling, demonstrating the love that brought him “down to such a world as this”.
Stanzas three and four, while they help us imagine the shepherd’s breathless joy and reverent wonder upon hearing the angelic annunciation of the arrival of the Messiah “promised from eternal years,” are easily omitted if time constraints necessitate. Doing so detracts little from the hymns’ theological content and also nestles stanza two between one and five, heightening the impact of the contrasting estates.
Most fascinating, especially given the author’s trajectory of ecclesiastical associations, which appear to be less than heartily evangelical, is stanza 6. It, following numerous Biblical examples (Hebrews 12:2-4, 2 Corinthians 8:7-9, and etc.), reminds us that the particular actions God undertook in His redemptive work must inform, motivate, and empower gospel living.
See amid the winter’s snow,
Born for us on earth below,
See, the gentle Lamb appears,
Promised from eternal years.
Hail that ever blessèd morn,
Hail redemption’s happy dawn,
Sing through all Jerusalem:
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Lo, within a manger lies
He Who built the starry skies;
He Who, thronèd in height sublime,
Sits amid the cherubim.
Say, you holy shepherds, say,
Tell your joyful news today.
Why have you now left your sheep
On the lonely mountain steep?
“As we watched at dead of night,
Lo, we saw a wondrous light;
Angels singing ‘Peace on earth’
Told us of the Savior’s birth.”
Sacred Infant, all divine,
What a tender love was Thine,
Thus to come from highest bliss
Down to such a world as this.
Teach, O teach us, holy Child,
By Thy face so meek and mild,
Teach us to resemble Thee,
In Thy sweet humility.