A Hymn for Christmas Eve
The early church celebrated the birth of Christ with a late-night vigil. They gathered in the darkness to sing about the Light of the World, who gives light to all men: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). Ephrem the Syrian was a pastor and hymn-writer in the fourth century who wrote hymns for the Christmas Vigil. I reread these hymns every Christmas. Ephrem wrote in Syriac, which is a Semitic language, close to Aramaic and Hebrew. Syrian Christians were hymn writers. They sang their theology. I’ve compiled various lines from Ephrem’s Hymns on the Nativity in the following hymn for Christmas Eve:
Tonight, the Word of God who commands all creation
lies silently in his mother’s arms.
Tonight, the One who sustains all things
latches to his mother’s breast for sustenance.
Tonight, the Son of God who is clothed in unapproachable light
is wrapped in swaddling cloths.
Tonight, the who sits enthroned over creation
is laid to rest in a manger.
Blessed is the Shepherd
who became the Lamb for our atonement.
Blessed is the Vine
who became the Cup of our salvation.
Blessed is the Physician
who took on our disease.
Blessed is the Architect
who became the tower of our refuge.
In this winter season, when trees are bare,
we receive the most succulent spiritual fruit.
In this winter season, when the earth is barren,
a new hope springs forth in our souls.
In this winter season, when seeds are hidden in the soil,
the vine of life springs forth from the virgin’s womb.
Lord Jesus, we rejoice because You became poor,
so that we might become rich.
We rejoice because You humbled yourself,
so that we might be lifted up.
We rejoice because You were born of the virgin by the Holy Spirit,
so that we might be reborn by the same Holy Spirit.
We rejoice because You shared in our temporal sufferings,
so that we might share in your eternal glory.
We rejoice because You did not flee death,
so that we might flee to you and find eternal life.