Songwriting and Theology – The Incarnation

Ordinary Time - Of the Father's Love Begotten

Why is it that we love the songs of Christmas so much?  No matter what your style of worship is I bet you’ll find yourself singing the choice Christmas carols like O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus in worship during advent.  The story of Jesus birth has always awed humanity and inspired verse!  The NT is full of poetry surrounding Christ’s birth and this trend has carried through every generation of Christian.  You can read more about the NT songs HERE.

This week in our Songwriting and Theology class we studied two ancient writers on the Incarnation. One, John Chrysostom, was an early church father and preacher in Constantinople during the 4th century. We read through one of his Christmas sermons. Here is a little excerpt:

“Come, then, let us observe the feast.  Come, and we shall commemorate the solemn festival.  It is a strange manner of celebrating a festival; but truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity.  For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

“Why is this?  Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle.  He has come on earth, while being whole in heaven; and while complete in heaven, he is without diminution on earth.  Though he was God, he became man; not denying himself to be God.  Though being the impassable Word, he became flesh; that he might dwell amongst us.  He became flesh.  He did not become God.  He was God.  Wherefore he became flesh, so that he whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive.  He was placed in a manger, so that he, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from his virgin mother.  So, the father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the magi may more easily see him.”  Source:  John Chrysostom; from Mary Ann Simcoe, ed.  A Christmas Sourcebook.  Liturgy Training Publications, 1984.

The other was ‘Aurelius Prudentius‘ who was a well known hymn-writer in the western church in the 4th century. You can purchase a copy of his hymns here.  He is most famous to us for his hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten“. (We love Ordinary Time’s version)  We read through his Hymn for Christmas Day.’ Below are three of 21 verses that look at Christ as the pre-incarnate Word (Gen 1,John 1). Read the whole thing at the link above.

Though Thou didst come from the Mouth of God,
Born as His Word on earth below,
Yet as His Wisdom Thou didst live
Forever in the Father’s Heart.

This Wisdom uttered made the sky,
The Sky and light and all besides,
All by the Word’s almighty power
Were fashioned, for the Word was God.

But when the universe was formed
And ordered by unchanging laws,
The Cause and Architect divine
In the Father’s bosom still remained,

Until the slow revolving years
In centuries at length had passed,
And he himself vouchsafed to come
Down to the world grown old in sin.

Our assignment for this week
was to write a verse inspired by each of the writers mentioned above.  Following John Chrysostom, we were to write 1 stanza that speaks of the birth of Christ as either a joining of 1) divinity and humanity; 2) heaven and earth; and/or 3) humans and angels (i.e., joining together in praise). Following Prudentius we were to write 1 stanza that explores the birth of Christ as bringing about a new creation reminiscent of the OT accounts of the first creation (God speaks the Word, the role of Wisdom, etc.)

for Chrysostom…
Upon a midnight hill in Bethlehem
The shepherds watched their sheep
And then an angel of the Lord
Did rouse them from their sleep

“Fear not, you hear the words of men
Brought down from heaven above
This very day a Savior born
Is Christ the Lord of love.”

“How do you speak in shepherd tongue?”
The men now called on high
“How do you sing our folksy song
and brighten up our sky?”

For this news we’ll leave our flock
And venture from the hills
“O Glory, Glory to our God
Let heaven and earth be filled!”

for Prudentius –
Before your blood was pulsing through
You knew the depths of earth
Before your eyes had seen the light
Your mind had built the skies

Before you spoke into the world
You heard the sinners cries
Before you called forth the angels song
You inspired their symphonies

(c) 2011 Bruce Benedict

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