Advent, Day 23: Holy One, Jesus Come

LOOK: Nativity, Netherlands, 16th century

Bosch, Hieronymus (after)_Nativity
Unidentified artist (in the style of Hieronymus Bosch), Nativity, southern Netherlands, ca. 1550–1600. Oil on panel, 58 × 76 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

This painting in the style of Bosch shows Mary and Joseph adoring their newborn son, Jesus, who’s naked and bedded down in straw. A small angelic ensemble stands at the head of the manger with lute, harp, and songbook, softly serenading the family, while a shepherd sneaks a peek from behind a green curtain. It is as if we, the viewer, are standing opposite the shepherd on the other side of the manger, also looking down at the Christ child. Are we similarly rapt with wonder?

I love how the ox and the ass meet our gaze, acknowledge our presence!

I’m not sure of the significance of Joseph’s hand-in-jacket gesture (its association with stateliness wasn’t established until some two centuries later, from what I can tell), but it’s likely supposed to connote reverence or humility, as do Mary’s prayerful hands.

In the left background, two men warm their hands and feet outside by a fire, while at the right, an angel appears to another shepherd on a hillside, announcing the Messiah’s birth.

LISTEN: “Holy One, Jesus Come” by Andy Bast, on The Hymns of St. Ephrem for Advent by Pillar Church (2014)

The lyrics of this song are loosely based on Ephrem the Syrian’s Nativity Hymn #2 from the fourth century. (All nineteen Nativity hymns by this early Christian poet-theologian are a treasure!)

Blessed is he
Both hidden and seen
Blessed is he
Who left the height of majesty

You magnify all, come magnify me
That I may tell about
The glory of your birth
Proclaim your grace to all the earth
Holy One, Jesus, come!

Blessed is he
Who gave us all
Blessed is he
Who gave us all that he has gained

O Father of all, your glorious day
You gave not seraphim
Nor sent the cherubim
You gave your only Son instead
Holy One, Jesus, come!

All glory to thee, entirely
Glory to thee, from every tongue, entirely
Your birth is enough
For all of us

Great one became a child
Pure one became defiled
O Living One, laid in the tomb
In you we are renewed
Your washing washed us through
Let us obtain life by your death
Holy One, Jesus, come!

The Incarnation, the enfleshment of God in the person of Jesus, encompasses the God-man’s birth and death, as does this song. Salvation was wrought not through Jesus’s birth alone, or life alone, or death alone, or resurrection alone, but through all of it together.

At first I got tripped up on the line “Pure one became defiled,” because Jesus did not become defiled in the sense of succumbing to sin or moral corruption. However, in his ministry, he did touch lepers, bleeding women, and corpses, which, according to the Jewish purity laws at the time, would have made him ritually unclean. Looking back on these healings and raisings, Christians would say that rather than these people’s uncleanness transferring to him, his cleanness transferred to them. But the public perception was that he was defiling himself.

And then, of course, there’s 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake God made the one who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” What it means that Jesus “became sin” or “became a curse” has been the subject of much theological discussion! But suffice it to say that Jesus’s death on the cross involved not only physical debasement but also his bearing, in a metaphysical sense, the full weight of humanity’s transgressions.

Andy Bast is a singer-songwriter from Holland, Michigan. He is a musician and writer for the Christian collective Bellwether Arts and a regular contributor to Cardiphonia projects.

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