Who Would Have Dreamed?

Christmas is a feast of song, a celebration known even more for its singing than its speaking. Christians cannot merely say the story; we are compelled to sing it — not only with beloved old songs, but with a steady stream of new songs. Why? Because some truths are simply too wild for the heart to ride with prose, they require the harness of verse.

On a starlit hillside, shepherds watched their sheep.
Slowly, David’s city drifted off to sleep.
But to this little town of no great renown
The Lord had a promise to keep.

And what a promise it was:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

This promise, combined with others, foretells an event so awe-full, so wildly incredible, that the Spirit must help our feeble minds conceive it. YHWH will become flesh (John 1:14, John 8:58–59, Philippians 2:11); Creator will become creation. A woman shall give birth to a child so holy that all the fallen, futile world is a filthy stable in comparison. It is so scandalous that no first-century Jew would have dreamed it. It is so wonderful that no human would have composed it.

And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world.

Who would have dreamed that Immanuel would so literally mean God with us (Isaiah 7:14) — that some would hear him with their ears, see him with their eyes, and touch him with their hands (1 John 1:1)?

Prophets had foretold it, a mighty King would come
Long awaited Ruler, God’s Anointed One
But the Sovereign of all looked helpless and small
As God gave the world His own Son

And what a prophecy it was:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6–7)

Who would have dreamed that when the prophet said, “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Isaiah 7:14), God meant an unwed pregnancy? Who would have dreamed that the “Everlasting Father” would become a nursing infant, soil his swaddling cloths, and lie in a feeding trough? Who would have dreamed that the Messiah of Bethlehem would grow into an uneducated peasant tradesman from Galilee (John 7:15, 52)? Who would have dreamed that he would choose fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes as disciples over scribes and Pharisees?

Wondrous gift of heaven: the Father sends the Son
Planned from time eternal, moved by holy love
He will carry our curse and death He’ll reverse
So we can be daughters and sons

Who would have dreamed that when this long-expected Savior, God the Son, arrived he would be rejected by Jew and Gentile and crucified by them both? And who would have dreamed that this was God’s plan all along (Acts 4:28), that he had always intended to become himself the Passover Lamb who, in this single act of supreme love, would bear away the sins of all his people throughout all the world for all time (John 1:29; Hebrews 9:26)? And who would have dreamed that after his brutal slaughter, he would rise again from the dead so that all who would believe in him would have eternal life (John 3:16)?

This story is not of merely human origin. There is nothing like it in any other human religion or mythology: the Incarnation for the sake of atoning substitution for the sake of our redemption. This stands alone in all of history, measurelessly glorious and fathomlessly mysterious. It makes us sing!

And the singing never stops. This modern Christmas hymn, Who Would Have Dreamed?, reminds us that not all the great Christmas verse was penned in centuries past. With theological richness, beautifully simple poetry, and skillful musical prosody it gives new voice to the timeless Story of all stories.

Each succeeding generation of the church is called to “repeat the sounding joy.” So, songwriters, help us sing the joy of Christmas! Like this hymn, give us new voice in profoundly fresh, skillful verse to harness the wild wonder of the arrival of the omnipotent Infant whose coming brought the advent of our eternal emancipation.