*** Offering a theologically rich overview of the meaning of Christmas, the music of this hymn is easily learned.The-source-of-life-1
For many of us Christmas is a ‘magical’ time, but we are at a loss to know how to express all that we intuit and feel at this time. This hymn tries to help.
In the first verse divine grace emerges from within the cosmos it dynamically ‘seethes and spawns’. We, that is, humankind, acknowledge that we long for a coming that answers to no human timetable. It is a coming that completely changes the way we think about life: instead of our organizing history to suit our interests, we see ourselves as instruments co-opted to serve the purposes of grace in creation: ‘We see by heaven’s light…’
‘We see…this grace made blood and bone and stabled in our heart till all our healing’s done.’ I can think of no more expressive way of explaining this than to imagine something of what a woman feels when she realizes she is pregnant. She is chosen to serve the life that has entered her, and she may dare to imagine the child in her womb as the harbinger of a better future for all, one who makes the world more humane. Is she perhaps also amazed into silence by the mystery that has come upon her, and, through her, upon the world?
‘What shall we do then…?’ You and I may not personally know each other, but we recognise that we are all beneficiaries of God’s love; we are ‘friends’ who live in the light of the question of how to respond to grace. Echoing the response of the angels, who praised God saying ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours’, we praise and praise till walls of hostility tumble and ‘all the world resounds with people making peace’.
The music of the first three lines of this hymn is quiet and un-busy. The last is quiet too (the melody being all on one note), but the harmonic colours shift to hint at this inconceivable change that has come upon the world. The music, like the lyric it carries, is written as far away as possible from those brilliant choruses in Handel’s ‘Messiah’: ‘For unto us a child is born’ and ‘Glory to God’. The reason for this is that our praising needs to produce more than magnificent sounds. It needs to be of such a kind as to direct us towards peace-building; which is a task that always demands deep reflection.
So this hymn, while affirming all that Handel’s music affirms, suggests, along with Philip Brooks in ‘O little town of Bethlehem’, that the gift of Christmas Day comes in deep, adoring silence.