Of the Father’s Love Begotten

30 Dec

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.

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 ring
Evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore. Amen.

-Aurelius C. Prudentius, c. 413; Tune from “Divinum Mysterium”, 12th century.

Leading up to Christmas, I focused in my last several posts on the theme of God’s love by which He sent us His only Son, as the Gospel of John says, “so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life”. (John 3:16)

Despite the amazing gift of Jesus Christ given to us by God who is Love, St. Paul recognizes that this remains a great mystery to even the most devout Christians. However, to scratch even the surface of understanding this mystery, we must behave in a unified, loving manner, just as Christ Himself lived and taught. In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul wrote:

“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:

He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.”

-1 Timothy 3:14-16

I include this passage here since these are the verses on which were based the hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”, which I think appropriately sums up the only partly explicable beauty of the Christmas season. I remember having practiced this song as a member of the choir in high school, and it’s been one of my favorite Christmas hymns ever since.

The hymn begins with an affirmation of the eternity of God. He is the beginning and the end, symbolized by the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Christ, the only Son of God, comes to us and lives through, with, and in those who welcome and who follow Him. Christ, symbolized by the Greek Chi (shaped like an “X” but pronounced as “ch” in English) is co-eternal with the Father; the Father and Son together are the same God in perfect unity. The Holy Spirit is begotten out of this perfect and unified love.

No symbol can accurately portray this mystery of the Trinity. The representations shown in my avatar and on the Easter candle in church are only a simple conveyance of our limited understanding of the Triune God. A much better image of God is shown by our love for one another. We understand that the Lord is patient with us; the divine project of molding humanity into the image and likeness of God isn’t finished yet. God expects us to begin by loving each other as friends, as Jesus declares to Peter (cf. John 21:15-19). We will then progress toward unconditional love for God, for each other, and for self. We will therefore be ready when Christ returns in the same way He went toward the Father. (cf. Acts 1:11) Thus, as one priest told me after a philosophy lecture on religious iconography months ago, with time we become better icons of Christ whom we serve. We are the images of God continually being written by His grace, mercy, and love.

The hymn speaks of angel hosts being among those in adoration of the Lord. They are joined by those who have great power and dominion, yet have stripped themselves of it to become better images and thus hosts of the poor servant Jesus who gave His life for us on the Cross. Therefore, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”. (Matthew 5:3)

The Spanish Franciscan Ignacio Larrañaga, whose book “Sensing Your Hidden Presence: Toward Intimacy with God” I mentioned in a previous post and I continue to read, expresses a similar message: In order to adore God properly, we must avoid making ourselves into idols, with our inadequate and oversimplified concepts of God. Instead we should be prepared to empty ourselves before the Lord. A fuller relationship with God may then seem like nothingness or despair, but this is necessary. God is always with us through it all. Larrañaga writes of our need “to wipe out, to clean and empty our interior of all ‘appropriations’ which have been absolutized and divinized, and, in its place, let God take possession and unfold, there, His holy Kingdom”. (Larrañaga, p. 240) The author then quotes St. John of the Cross:

“The poor man who is naked will be clothed and the soul that is naked of desires and whims will be clothed by God with his purity, satisfaction, and will.”

When we allow Our Lord to liberate us, we will be overcome with praise and joy that will be unceasing even in times of suffering (cf. Job 12). We will all sing of God’s greatness because we will be able to sense its nearness in His creation and ultimately in our entire being.

Lord, with praise and thanksgiving we ask that you be near us when we are troubled and when we are happy. As we hopefully await your coming in glory, may we praise you with hymn and chant and with our whole selves. May we share in your eternal victory over death. Aid us in spreading your Word to every place. Bless us as this year draws to a close and another year begins. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

WRS

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