A Hymn of the Incarnation
This past Tuesday I read some selected parts of the first eighteen verses of the first chapter of the Gospel According to John at the graveside service for Jimmy Hart. These were not words I would have usually read at a funeral, but the family and I agreed that they spoke to Jimmy’s faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and they also spoke to this season when we are celebrating the Incarnation—the embodiment of God in Jesus, come to us to reveal the Father’s love. Here are the verses I read:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
"The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 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."
As I was reflecting on these verses the next morning (in the shower, which seems to be where God often speaks to me), I was reminded of one of my favorite hymns. I learned this in seminary and have loved it ever since. It was written by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius and translated by John Mason Neale and Henry W. Baker. The tune, “Divinum Mysterium,” is from the 11th century, and it fits these words ever so wonderfully. I share this hymn with you today, as we draw closer to the celebration of the birth of our Lord, without comment, so that it may perhaps speak to you as well, and maybe as powerfully as it’s spoken to me.
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 heav'n, 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 unwearied praises be: honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory, evermore and evermore!
(Scripture from the New Revised Standard Version; Hymn 184 in The United Methodist Hymnal)