Tuesday, December 23, 2014

One From the Heart...The Nativity: Just what is a "Theophany?!?"

One of my favorite Christmas songs is "Of the Father's love begotten." It was written by a believer named Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius sometime in the late 4th century. The version most of us know is supplied in our hymnal with a translation provided by John Mason Neale and Henry William Baker. The tune is adapted from an 11th century chant, with further work done on the tune sometime in the 16th century.

Of the Father's love begotten, ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega, he the source and ending he, of the things that are, that have been and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!
Of that birth for ever blessed, when the Virgin full of grace, by the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race; and the Babe, the world's Redeemer, first revealed his sacred face, 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 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!
I can hear that hymn, and to me in so many ways it sums up both the cosmic joy we feel in the birth of the Savior while at the same time setting us up with noting a particular and eternity-altering event. You see, God is never again going to be far off, beyond our ken; at least not entirely. God is still God, and that mystery is perforce above our proverbial pay grade, being finite and mortal as we are...but with the birth of Jesus, the Incarnate Word, we get a sustaining connection with the ineffable grace that was, and is and is to come.

God is no longer abstract. God is no longer somewhere else. God is no longer somewhen else. God is here. God is now. Moreover, with God's Presence now in our midst, there is something else going on: we no longer need to fear. Read your Bible...when human beings in that narrative came close to the holy, there was quite a bit to be afraid of when it came to being in close contact with the Almighty. Our blood would boil, our eyes burn in their sockets, our bones vibrate to dust and our minds atomize if we ever came THAT close to God's glory...everyone knew that fact, as fact. Even God had to make special dispensation for the greatest of prophets, those given the Word itself to proclaim, if a personal theophany was to take place. Moses could only see God's backside in passing. Elijah was to veil himself in proximity to the Great Silence.

And now, with the birth of the Christ and in the moment when Incarnation became real and the Word was fulfilled in our midst, God is no longer far off. God is with us. In the Christ, in Jesus, God is actually one of us.

Eternity has drawn near. Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, are here and now. All of heaven and earth, every celestial and terrestrial being is bearing witness. Everyone is called to the dance, and to join their voice to the chorus...God is with us. Emmanuel, born of a woman and raised in our midst, will be with us and from now on theophany means the warm, intimate and loving embrace of a savior who knows our pain, who shares our joy and who walks life's path with us.

Evermore and evermore!

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