“Jesus, Once of Humble Birth” is one of seven hymns in the hymnbook written by Parley P. Pratt. While a couple of them are Restoration-focused (The Morning Breaks, An Angel From On High), Elder Pratt’s hymns tend to instead focus on more general Christian themes, such as the life and second coming of Jesus Christ. This is one of those hymns.
This well-known sacrament hymn contrasts the Savior’s first and second comings. It’s written in couplets. The first half of each line starts with “Once…” and describes the Savior’s coming in the meridian of time; the second half starts with “Now…” and tells of His coming to usher in the Millennium. While we’re used to organizing hymns into verses, this hymn is perhaps best understood as a table:
|Of humble birth||In glory comes to earth|
|He suffered grief and pain||He comes on earth to reign|
|A meek and lowly Lamb||The Lord, the great I Am|
|Upon the cross he bowed||His chariot is the cloud|
|He groaned in blood and tears||In glory he appears|
|Rejected by his own||Their king he shall be known|
|Forsaken, left alone||Exalted to a throne|
|All things he meekly bore||Will bear no more|
The dichotomy could not be more pronounced. While the Savior’s first coming was marked with humility, His second coming will be replete with glory.
But why is this difference important to understand? Some of those is Judaism at Christ’s time certainly did not properly distinguish (or at least misunderstood) the two, as they expected Christ to come anything but humbly and free them from political oppression. But what about now, where we know the circumstances of Christ’s first coming, and presume to have some idea of how His second coming will begin?
I see it as a model for us to follow. In the left column above are a number of circumstances that may befall us in this life, in the name of righteousness. While mere mortals, we may suffer tremendous grief and pain; we may be rejected by those we call our own; we may be forsaken and lonely and left to bear impossible burdens.
But when the time comes that He returns to earth in His glory, the script will be flipped, and we will see our reward. We may discover for ourselves, in some small way, our own glory; our own kingdoms and thrones as exalted sons and daughters of God. All the struggles and suffering we experience in this life, in struggling to live the Lord’s gospel, will be replaced by joy incomprehensible.
The Savior will live two lives, one a mortal life of quiet pain and the other a resurrected eternity of triumphant happiness—and so can each of us.
What I choose to learn in this hymn’s text is to understand that our day-to-day struggles fit squarely in the left column, and that if we bear them well we will be worthy to receive whatever is in the right column for us. The gospel gives us that perspective—we know that this left column isn’t all there is—and allows us to look forward with hope and faith.
In the end, maybe we’ll look back and realize that our own life, here on Earth and beyond, was also written in couplets.