Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Caroling the Gospel XI: Of the Father's Love Begotten

[NOTE:  This is from a 12-part series I did on another blog.  Hence the tardiness.  I promise, it was timely when I first wrote it.  The rest of the series is available here.  Enjoy!]

This is, I think, the oldest carol I've looked at.  The words date from the early 5th century, and the music--Divinum Mysterium--was written in the 11th century.  Which makes a lot of sense--the music feels old.  This song works best sung by an acapella men's choir, largely in unison (in other words, as monks in the 11th century might have sung it).  It was translated from the original Latin into English in the mid-19th century.  With nine verses, it's usually truncated in church services or musical performances--the first, sixth, and ninth verses are the ones I've heard most often, though the third and seventh verses are particularly gospel-filled.

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!
 With nine verses, there's obviously quite a bit going on here, but I'm not going to go into tons of detail, or this post will be even longer than my usual ramblings.

We start before time and space, remembering that Christ is begotten of the Father's love and is the Alpha and Omega. (John 1:1-3, 14-18, 3:16-18; Revelation 1:7-8).  We recall that all of creation was called into existence by His word.  (Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6)  This eternal, creating, begotten God was made a man, and suffered death and sorrow to save Adam's condemned race.  (Isaiah 53:3-4; John 3:16-18; Philippians 2:5-8).  He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, so that He could be our Savior (Matthew 1:18-24).  This birth was foretold by the prophets and God's faithful were eagerly expecting the coming Messiah.  (Matthew 1:22-23; Luke 2:25-40, 18:31-32)  That's the gist of the first five stanzas.

The next four stanzas call on us to praise this Christ, who is over all power and dominion and will be praised by every tongue. (Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11; Ephesians 1:18-21; Philippians 2:9-11) He will judge all souls, punishing sinners and driving them from the presence of God. (Romans 1:18; Revelation 6:15-17; see Revelation generally).  All are called to praise Him--old, young, male, female, married, single.  The carol closes with a continued call to praise the victorious triune God, and, as with all the previous verses, highlights the forever-ness of this God and of our praises.

This might be the most wrath-filled Christmas carol ever, and I love that.  Because only when we really see the wrath we deserve and will receive apart from Christ can we appreciate the unmerited gift of our salvation through His blood.

To read the next entry in the series, 'Caroling the Gospel XII: I Wonder as I Wander', click here.

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