Advent 2021: Love
“There is Room at My Side for Thee”
“Thou dost reign on high / with a kingly crown / yet Thou camest to earth for me / and in Bethlehem’s home / was there found no room / for Thy holy nativity.”
“Thou Dost Reign on High,” written by Emily E.S. Elliott in 1864, appears at the end of the Christmas carols in the Baptist edition of the Trinity Hymnal. The hymnal doesn’t classify it as a Christmas carol, but the few times I have heard it sung have been during the Christmas season. A quick online search reveals that, other than a handful of links to a few recordings and lyrics and a post on a personal blog, it is barely known.
But this hymn of worship deserves recognition for the manner in which it captures Christ’s love for us – His reign in heaven, His coming, His humbling ministry on earth, His suffering and death, His saving work, and ultimate return in victory. This is a complete presentation of the gospel in five verses.
“The foxes found rest / and the birds their nest / in the shade of the forest tree / but Thy couch was the sod / O Thou Son of God / in the deserts of Galilee.”
Our affluent culture has expanded the Christmas season into a time of buying, doing, decorating, cooking, and giving. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these things, and they are an enjoyable part of December, the event that triggered this time of festive activity was ultimately one of sacrifice.
It is easy to forget this. While we bring out our special clothes and decorations and foods and the commercialization of the season surrounds us, Christ left perfection and beauty behind for us. Not only that, he did not make his earthly associations with the respectable, powerful, and wealthy people who had the ability to command beautiful lives and surroundings for themselves. “… He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
“Thou camest, O Lord / with the living word / that should set Thy people free / but with mocking scorn / and with crown of thorn / they bore thee to Calvary.”
I think the greatest rest we can find is in the guarantee that we are loved for who we are, even with our imperfections, and that nothing we do will break that love. We search for it in human relationships, and while solid marriages and committed friendships are one of God’s great gifts, they are ultimately relationships between two sinful parties who will hurt each other through insecurities and selfishness. If we are honest with ourselves, what makes us blush and squirm are the vulnerabilities and errors that we fear will incur others’ rejection.
No human being can bear the full weight of another’s need for anchoring and belonging. We can offer one another a valuable element of safety and stability, but both parties will ultimately discover that their association is imperfect. This points us to the need for something greater. Once we discover that there is Someone greater, we realize that we are the fundamentally broken ones who have cracked the once-loving relationship with Him through our own sinfulness. There is nothing we can be or do in our own power to heal it.
“O come to my heart, Lord Jesus / Thy cross is my only plea.”
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, that He might bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Christians are often so familiar with the tenets of the gospel that we forget its significance for our daily lives and fall back into our old patterns of seeking affirmation and feelings of belonging from mortal sources.
But, as Christ, our foundation and chief example, showed us through His atonement, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Christ dreaded the horrors of the cross and prayed that He might not have to pass through the experience. But as the Gospels declare, He sinlessly endured the cross – the weight of our rebellion, the things that divide us from Him and each other, and the full measure of God’s wrath. Here is the source of everlasting, unbreakable, truly fulfilling love.
“When heav’n’s arches shall ring / and her choirs shall sing / at Thy coming to victory / let Thy voice call me home / saying, ‘Yet, there is room / there is room at My side for thee.’”
Revelation 19:10 speaks of the marriage supper of the Lamb. We joyfully celebrate love and the unity of two lives at wedding receptions. But this heavenly marriage supper will be secure love beyond comprehension, for we will be in an uninterrupted relationship with God and each other for eternity.
For the complete lyrics of “Thou Dost Reign on High,” see Hymnary.org.
Rosalie Chesley serves at the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware as the assistant to the interim executive director and managing editor of BaptistLIFE.