Can we sing about Christ’s birth when it’s not Christmas?
“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” was one of my favorite Christmas hymns growing up. To this day, it brings back memories of my dad’s famous Christmas Eve services at our Baptist church in rural Pennsylvania. I can still see the candles, the snow, the food waiting at home (which often included a Chinese dish or two, which is a story for another time). And I can hear the music: the choir, the praise band, the instrumentalists, my brother cranking out some jazzy arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” on his trumpet. It was the highlight of the calendar year for my dad. There was no event, concert, or worship service that occupied as much of my father’s time, sweat, and creativity as did those two precious services on December 24th. This epic evening of exulting in our Savior’s birth became so famous (or rather “infamous”) that the weary and exhausted Spacht family dubbed it “The Greatest Show on Earth!”
This is not to say that my dad viewed the evening as primarily an occasion to showcase skill and astound attendees with acrobatic feats of musicianship (the likes of which have not been seen or heard in Erie County since).
Okay, maybe there was a little of that.
But, my dad understood something about the incarnation that I think I’ve only started to appreciate recently. It’s this – the incarnation should elicit from us profound, deep, and exuberant worship.
Our Lord’s coming to earth is often overshadowed in our collective gospel-narrative consciousness by the paraphernalia of the “Christmas Season.” We’ll often hear phrases like “Remember, He’s the reason for the season!” – as if there’s the actual temptation to forget that God had to enter time and space through being conceived by the Holy Spirit, developing from a single cell inside a womb, and being born through painful labor by a girl who wasn’t technically married – oh, and breathing his first breath in a barn with no doctors, medical instruments, or anesthetics. It’s the kind of stuff that would make for a preposterous tall-tale (“When I was your age, I had to walk 6 miles to school, uphill both ways, through the snow, in July…”), except it wasn’t. This was our salvation. This was God’s rescue plan for His children. Without the stall there is no cross. No “it is finished.” No “He has risen!”
Has it ever struck you as funny that we don’t say “Hey, don’t forget, He’s the reason for the season” around Easter time?
I wonder if Western Christianity has minimized the significance of the incarnation because we typically only sing about it during a time of year when flying reindeer, talking snowmen, and various green plants decking every conceivable cranny abound? In our cross-centered, gospel-centered awakening, I wonder if it might not be time to purposefully add some “incarnation-centered” worship and dialogue to the mix?
In some small way, I think “Of the Father, to the World” begins to accomplish this.
Yes, I did write it during the traditional “Christmas Season.” And yes, I did first introduce it during my own Christmas Eve services at my church in Florida. But, I think it gives the manger story “teeth” and pathos in a way that cuts through the plastic veneer so that it can be used throughout the year.
I actually didn’t intend or plan on writing any sort of addendum to an already beautiful, nearly perfect hymn of the faith (which is over 1,500 years old!). The gall!
The words and tune came to me a few years ago as I was rehearsing the hymn on my own before a Christmas Eve service. I just sang it. I don’t even think I edited it or tried to make it rhyme. In those moments of practicing, it felt right and necessary to declare in praise, “You ARE Alpha! You ARE Omega! You ARE my Savior! You ARE coming again!” And so “Of the Father, to the World” was born.
The Christmas season can be a very painful time for some of us. My own dad passed away at the age of 50 over six years ago. In a sweet and bitter way, Christmas can never be the same as it was during those years of “The Greatest Show On Earth.” In fact, it’s that reality that led me to write “God is with us, no more fear; Death is conquered, dry your tears” – which at first can seem rather out of character for a Christmas worship song. But that’s exactly the point.
Because we should not relegate the reality of the incarnation to a few weeks of the year, its theological implications should affect and enhance ALL other areas of our faith.
Because He came, we know He’ll come again. Because God is with us, fear can flee from our hearts. Because the baby grew up and died, was buried, and rose again, we know that when we die, we shall live again. And because an infant took its first breath in a lonely barn, we know that when those we love take their last, the Creator and Sustainer of all life has not abandoned us, but in that moment continues to be our “Everlasting Amen.” Maranatha!
In addition to serving as a full-time Director of Worship, Joshua Spacht is an arranger, orchestrator, and songwriter for several Nashville publishers. He also writes music for multi-media. He and his wife Carolyn live just outside D.C. where they enjoy taking in the sights, sounds, and especially the food of the nation’s capital. You can follow their foodie escapades on twitter and Facebook.