You know Joy to the World. You know Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. You know O Little Town of Bethlehem.
You know the usual Christmas hymns and carols recorded ad nauseam and piped into our lives from October to late December. Some of them, like the aforementioned ones, are great hymns of the faith that are absolutely worth knowing. Others are real duds.
(Looking at you, Away in a Freakin’ Manger? Come on. Baby Jesus had gas, and he cried. Incarnational theology depends on it.)
There’s one Christmas hymn that I think stands head and shoulders above even the greatest of these others. “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” was given to us by 4th-century Roman poet Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, by way of 19th-century translators J.M. Neale and H.W. Baker. The original stanzas are massive in their theological scope, and warrant some study and meditation, though most hymnals only contain 4-6.
Unfortunately, though most of my musician friends will know this one, many Christians, especially the evangelicals I grew up with – you know, the ones that tear up at “Mary, Did You Know?” and “The Christmas Shoes” – know nothing of this hymn. If you know this one, listen and sing along. If you don’t, well, let me present to you your new favorite Christmas hymn.
Here, the hymn is sung by some Lutheran young people. The stanzas they sing are bolded in the text below.
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!
At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!
He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!
O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior 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!
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 sing, evermore and evermore!
Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!
Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!
Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!