Christmas, Day 7: All Glory Be to Christ

LOOK: The Burning Bush by Sassandra

Sassandra_The Burning Bush
Jacques Richard Sassandra (French, 1932–), Le buisson ardent (The Burning Bush), late 1980s. Oil on canvas, 110 × 272 cm. Collection of the artist.

Last year when I was corresponding with the artist Sassandra about the New Jerusalem collage from his Apocalypse series, he sent me some photos of this painted triptych on the same subject. It’s called The Burning Bush. When open, it’s about nine feet across, and it shows Christ as the Good Shepherd standing in the river of life, which waters the roots of the tree of life, whose leafy branches extend all around. This is a depiction of the new heaven and new earth described in the book of Revelation, with angels posted at its twelve gates. (See Advent, Day 15.)

The image references other biblical passages as well. The lion and the lamb lying down together in peace—the lion having given up its carnivorous diet to eat straw instead of fellow creatures—is an allusion to the messianic kingdom prophesied in Isaiah 11. And the French inscription on the arch above Jesus and the bottom gatepost is the text of John 10:9: Je suis la porte. Si quelqu’un entre par moi il sera sauvé. (“I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”) Jesus is the doorway through which we enter this glorious future.

Sassandra_The Burning Bush
Sassandra, Le buisson ardent (central panel)

It’s worth quoting the John passage in full, which rings loudly with the theme of sacrifice:

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Two of the seven I AM statements that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John are present here: “I AM the gate of the sheepfold,” “I AM the good shepherd.” The others are “I AM the bread of life,” “I AM the light of the world,” “I AM the resurrection and the life,” “I AM the way, the truth, and the life,” and “I AM the true vine.” Biblical scholars say that with these statements, Jesus was ascribing to himself the divine, if somewhat cryptic name that God disclosed to Moses in Exodus 3:14–15: I AM THAT I AM.

Sassandra_The Burning Bush (closed)
Sassandra, Le buisson ardent (closed)

Sassandra makes that connection in this triptych. When the wings are closed, the outer scene shows Moses before the burning bush, his shoes reverently removed, his arms raised in worship before the fiery Voice that calls him. Inscribed along the sides of these two exterior panels is Saint, saint, saint est le seigneur de l’univers! Toute la terre est pleine de sa gloire! (“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of the universe! All the earth is full of his glory!”) (Isa. 6:3).

The artwork thus links Yahweh’s revelation to Moses as the great I AM with Christ’s apocalyptic appearing at the end of time. The wispy leaves on the tree of life on the interior panels appear as little flames, and Christ stands among them, the full revelation of God, who beckons us.

“Adonai” is one of the seven traditional O Antiphons, titles for Christ taken from the Old Testament and turned into short Advent refrains. It’s a Hebrew word that translates to “my Lord,” and it was used by the ancient Israelites to refer to God, as they regarded the divine name, I AM, as too sacred to be uttered. The “O Adonai” antiphon of Christian tradition recognizes that the God who spoke to Moses in the burning bush is the same God who speaks through Christ, and it entreats God to come deliver us from bondage, as he did the Israelites from Egypt:

O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai:
come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.

Sassandra’s Burning Bush shows that deliverance—a landscape of liberation, where Christ, having given himself, holds us at rest in his arms and we are refreshed unceasingly by living water, and all creation sings God’s glory.

LISTEN: “All Glory Be to Christ” | Words by Dustin Kensrue, 2012 | Scottish folk melody, probably 17th century | Arranged and performed by The Petersens on Christmas with the Petersens, 2020

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive [Ps. 127:1]
To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me, what is your life?
A mist that vanishes at dawn [James 4:13–14]
All glory be to Christ!

Refrain:
All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

His will be done, his kingdom come
On earth as is above
Who is himself our daily bread [Matt. 6:10–11]
Praise him, the Lord of love
Let living water satisfy
The thirsty without price [Isa. 55:1; John 4:10; 7:37; Rev. 21:6]
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
All glory be to Christ! [Refrain]

When on the day the great I Am [Exod. 3:14]
The faithful and the true [Rev. 19:11]
The Lamb who was for sinners slain [Rev. 5:6]
Is making all things new [Rev. 21:5]
Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light [Rev. 22:5]
And we shall e’er his people be
All glory be to Christ! [Refrain]

This traditional folk melody from Scotland is one of the most recognizable in the world. It is most associated with Robert Burns’s Scots poem “Auld Lang Syne,” a staple of New Year’s Eve parties. As the old year passes, it’s common to pause and consider what passes away with it and what will last, and to cast a renewed vision for the new year.

In December 2011 the American singer-songwriter Dustin Kensrue [previously] was inspired to write new lyrics for the tune AULD LANG SYNE. “The idea is that—especially at the beginning of the new year—we would dedicate all our efforts to bringing glory to Jesus Christ,” he said, “to acknowledge that anything else would be of no value, and to celebrate our redemption in him.” Kensrue’s lyrics are full of biblical allusions, whose chapter-verse references I’ve cited in brackets above.

Kings Kaleidoscope recorded “All Glory Be to Christ,” sung by Chad Gardner, on their Christmas EP Joy Has Dawned (2012). The music video was filmed on a carousel at a fair, a metaphor for the passage of time. The years go round and round as our world revolves around the sun. When the ride stops, will we have ridden wisely and well?

Rather than feature the original recording, I’ve chosen to feature a more recent version by The Petersens, a family bluegrass band from Branson, Missouri, because I absolutely love how they have reharmonized it, including starting it in a minor key. Ellen Petersen Haygood sings lead, and harmonizing vocals are supplied by her siblings Matt Petersen and Katie Petersen and her mom, Karen Petersen.

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