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.
By his word was all created; he commanded, and ‘twas done; earth and sky and boundless ocean, universe of Three in One, all that sees the moon’s soft radiance, all that breathes beneath the sun: evermore and evermore
O that birth forever blessed, when the Virgin, full of grace, by the Spirit’s power conceiving, bore the Saviour 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.
Let the 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.
John testified to him and cried out, ‘This is he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
This much-loved hymn is wonderfully expressive of the miracle of the Incarnation, and its origin goes way back into antiquity. The original, Latin, version of the hymn (“Corde natus ex parentis”) was written by one Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, a Christian poet living in Northern Spain during the latter half of the 4th century and the early part of the 5th century. Through the translation above, J. M. Neale’s, extended by H. W. Baker, it speaks to us all down the centuries.
Theology is an ancient and honourable discipline. It constrains us to keep our beliefs substantial and sound, and to eschew mere sentimentality and wishful thinking. Likewise, the law-giver’s task can well to impose some discipline into our spirituality – Moses, mentioned in our Bible passage, occupied an honoured place on the Mount of Transfiguration.
But spirituality transcends both these great disciplines. Both disciplines can analyse and offer their own frameworks of understanding. Yet neither must be allowed to incarcerate revelation within those frameworks – because neither is adequate to convey the great incarnational miracle. It is only to the heart with love, wonder, and humility that true understanding can be given.
Our passage is an excerpt from one of the great passages of the Bible. The hymn conveys with profound expressive eloquence this part of the greatest story ever told. It is for us to take this narrative to ourselves, marvel alike at its meaning and expression, in the prose of John’s Gospel and in the poetry of the hymn, and resolve to live in the light shed by this story.
Lord, we know this story well – too well for our response always to be as fresh as it should be. Save us from being bored by its annual repetition, and enable us to find something ever new, to marvel and ponder over. We thank you for poets and poetry, to keep these great truths ever fresh. We thank you for the beauty and facility of language to enhance our understanding. We thank you for the expressiveness of music and musicians, to deepen these great hymns for us in our worship. But most of all we thank you for the gift of your Son. He inspires our devotion, our wonder, and our confidence of that fuller life to be experienced in the full and glorious light of that closer presence with you. Amen.
Ed Strachan is an Elder and Lay Preacher at Heald Green URC.