One of my favorite classical Christmas CDs is Welcome All Wonders!, which includes a musical arrangement of my favorite Christmas poem. Ever since the girls were very young, whenever we have gathered together to light Advent candles, we recite together the following lines from Richard Crashaw’s 17th-century poem, “On the Nativity of our Lord”:
“Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span,
Summer in winter, day in night,
Heaven in earth, and God in man!
Great little One, whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to Heaven, stoops Heaven to earth.”
Crashaw arrests our attention by juxtaposing contrasting characteristics of the divine and human natures of God, who has come to us as the Great little One in the manger. Crashaw’s love of paradox is almost Chestertonian in the way each phrase prompts us to reflect upon the mystery of the Incarnation. He awakens our wonder at the startling news that the omnipotent God became flesh – that God, in Immanuel, joins himself to us in our time and place, in our winter and darkness, born of Adam’s dust within our human skin, sharing in our poverty, weakness, grief and fear. At the end of a busy day filled with holiday hustle and bustle, upon hearing lines such as these, how could any Christian fail to pause and ponder afresh the meaning of Christmas?
Here’s another poem of Crashaw’s, worthy of reading slowly, with meditation. Consider writing a paraphrase, or adapting it to your own words:
That the Great angell-blinding Light should shrinke
His blaze to shine in a poore shepherd’s eye.
That the unmeasur’d God so low should sinke,
As Pris’ner in a few poore rags to lye,
That from His mother’s brest Hee milke should drinke,
Who feeds with Nectar Heav’ns faire family,
That a vile Manger His low Bed should prove,
Who in a Throne of Stars Thunders above.
That Hee whom the Sun serves, should faintly peepe,
Through clouds of Infant flesh: that Hee the ould
Eternall Word should bee a Child, and weepe.
That Hee who made the fire should feare the cold,
That Heav’ns High Majesty His court should keepe
In a clay-cottage, by each blast control’d.
That Glorie’s self should serve our Griefs and feares:
And free Eternity submit to yeares,
Let our everlasting wonder be.
In this season we welcome all wonders, indeed!
“On the Nativity of our Lord” (one stanza of which is quoted at the top of this page) and Crashaw’s “The Shepherds’ Hymn,” are easily accessible in the Oxford Book of Poetry. For more of his poetry, see Crashaw’s Complete Poetry. Listen to Welcome All Wonders! Christmas at Washington National Cathedral. Compare the hymn of Charles Wesley, “Our God contracted to a span, Incomprehensibly made man” (at hymnary.org). See also two of my posts: Immanuel and The almighty love of God in Christ’s condescension.