As we quickly exit Advent and even more quickly approach the 12 days of Christmas, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite writers, the Italian-German Romano Guardini, on the meaning of time and the Incarnation.
The world, time, history had begun with Creation; they reached apotheosis in the Incarnation of the Son of God-“the fullness of Time”-and all shall end with the destruction of the world and the Last Judgment. . . . [as such], each moment of time was etched against the sweeping panorama of history. Each present moment gained its uniqueness from the impact of the Incarnation with marked the piercing of time itself by eternity. —The End of the Modern World
May we never take for granted that the “fullness of time” reached its culmination and happened tonight, two thousand years ago, when a humble Jewish mother gave birth to the Son of God. Not in a palace, but in a dung-filled manger, surrounded by the most humble. Thus came our Lord.
A spotless Rose is growing, Sprung from a tender root, Of ancient seers’ foreshowing, Of Jesse promised fruit; Its fairest bud unfolds to light Amid the cold, cold winter, and in the dark mid-night.
The Rose which I am singing, Whereof Isaiah said, Is from its sweet root springing In Mary, purest Maid; For through our God’s great love and might The Blessed Babe she bare us In a cold, cold winter’s night.
“O Herbert, that cadence to A Spotless Rose is not merely ‘one of those things’. Brainwave it certainly is, but it is much more than that. It is a stroke of genius. I should like, when my time comes, to pass away with that magical cadence.”
The O Antiphon for the Magnificat at Vespers on December 23:
O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed of the nations and their Savior: come and save us, O Lord our God.
Healey Willan (1880-1968), professor at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and organist at St. Mary Magdalene Church in the same city, composed a setting of The Great O Antiphons of Advent for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Concordia Publishing House in 1957. Here’s Willan’s setting of “O Emmanuel,” as sung by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia:
O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!
“Behind all these things is the fact that beauty and terror are very real things and related to a real spiritual world; and to touch them at all, even in doubt or fancy, is to stir the deep things of the soul.” (pg. 108)
“These are the myths: and he who has no sympathy with myths has no sympathy with me. But he who has most sympathy with myths will most fully realise they are not and never were a religion, in the sense that Christianity or even Islam is a religion. They satisfy some of the needs satisfied by a religion; and notably the need for doing certain things at certain dates; the need of the twin ideas of festivity and formality. But though they provide a man with a calendar they do not provide him with a creed.” (pg. 109)
“But in reality the rivers of mythology and philosophy run parallel and do not mingle till they meet in the sea of Christendom. Simple secularists still talk as if the Church has introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion. The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever tried to combine reason and religion. There had never before been any such union of the priests and the philosophers. Mythology, then, sought God through the imagination; or sought truth by means of beauty.” (pg. 111)
–G.K. Chesterton, Everlasting Man (Ignatius edition).