Welcome All Wonders!

Welcome, all Wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter, day in night,
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little One! Whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.

To Thee, meek Majesty! soft King
Of simple graces and sweet loves.
Each of us his lamb will bring,
Each his pair of silver doves;
Till burnt at last in fire of Thy fair eyes,
Ourselves become our own best sacrifice.

—Richard Crashaw (1613-49), “The Holy Nativity of Our Lord God: A Hymn Sung as by Shepherds” (there are many choral settings of this text)

Riches to Rags

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest Man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenward by Thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest Man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what Thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship Thee.

—Frank Houghton (1894-1972); commonly sung as a carol to the traditional French tune “Quelle est cette odeur agréable?”

The Marvel of This Night

Before the marvel of this night
Adoring, fold your wings and bow,
Then tear the sky apart with light
And with your news the world endow.
Proclaim the birth of Christ and peace,
That fear and death and sorrow cease:
Sing peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace.

Awake the sleeping world with song,
This is the day the Lord has made.
Assemble here, celestial throng,
In royal splendor come arrayed.
Give earth a glimpse of heav’nly bliss,
A teasing taste of what they miss:
Sing bliss, sing bliss, sing endless bliss.

The love that we have always known,
Our constant joy and endless light,
Now to the loveless world be shown,
Now break upon its deathly night.
Into one song compress the love,
That rules our universe above:
Sing love, sing love, sing God is love.

—Jaroslav J. Vajda, from Now the Joyful Celebration: Hymns, Carols, and Songs; there is a choral setting by Carl Schalk published by Augsburg)

Light, Peace, Love

Light looked down and beheld Darkness.
“Thither will I go,” said Light.
Peace looked down and beheld War.
“Thither will I go,” said Peace.
Love looked down and beheld Hatred.
“Thither will I go,” said Love.
So came Light and shone.
So came Peace and gave rest.
So came Love and brought Life.

—Lawrence Housman (1865-1959)

Born Again

The kings have come and gone; the shepherds, too;
Now who is this still standing at the door?
An old and careworn woman, tired and poor,
So old she makes the stones themselves seem new.
She carries something in her trembling hands,
And, bending low, her eyes alit with joy,
She lays it down beside the sleeping Boy.
And then—a wonder happens! As she stands,
The wrinkles disappear, her stance grows tall,
Her head stands high; face radiant as the dawn,
She looks at Mary, smiles—and then she’s gone.
A glance at what she’s left tells Mary all—
The ancient, withered apple makes it plain:
Through Second Adam, Eve is born again.

—Brent Davis

Paradise Is Unlocked

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.

—John Chrysostom (4th Century A.D.)

Wonder of All Wonders

No priest, no theologian stood at the manger of Bethlehem. And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders: that God became human. Holy theology arises from knees bent before the mystery of the divine Child in the stable.

Without the holy night, there is no theology. “God is revealed in flesh,” the God-human Jesus Christ—that is the holy mystery that theology came into being to protect and preserve. How we fail to understand when we think that the task of theology is to solve the mystery of God, to drag it down to the flat, ordinary wisdom of human experience and reason! Its sole office is to preserve the miracle as miracle, to comprehend, defend, and glorify God’s mystery precisely as mystery. This and nothing else, therefore, is what the early church meant when, with never flagging zeal, it dealt with the mystery of the Trinity and the person of Jesus Christ…. If Christmas time cannot ignite within us again something like a love for holy theology, so that we—captured and compelled by the wonder of the manger of the Son of God—must reverently reflect on the mysteries of God, then it must be that the glow of the divine mysteries has also been extinguished in our heart and has died out.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas