Imaging the Incarnation in Song

Some hymns in the Orthodox tradition give us intriguing images of the incarnation which allow us to see salvation not just as systematic theology but as expressions of beauty.  We can see a few examples from the Matins Canon of the Sunday before the Nativity:

Stem of the root of Jesse,

The Virgin has blossomed forth as an unfading flower the Creator of all!

The One who as God has adorned all the earth with flowers,

Which raises the cry: Glory to Your power, O Lord!

The image of an unfading flower is in contrast to the biblical use of flowers which are usually portrayed as a fading beauty which is passing away (Job 14:2, Psalm 103:15, Isaiah 28:1-4, Isaiah 40:6-8; James 1:10-11; 1Peter 1:24).  Christ is the flower that does not fade.

She who is the holy vine

which causes the all-pure

cluster of grapes to ripen,

Draws near and comes

to bear the Wine of Gladness,

Which overflows and

pours forth drink 

to us who cry to Him:

Blessed are You, God of our Fathers.

The Lord who says His Blood is drink indeed (John 6:55) offers us this wine of gladness in the chalice.  Wine pressed from the grape cluster which the Virgin bore. All wonderful images of the incarnation.

She who is the holy chest of sweet ointment

bearing within the fragrant perfume,

Comes to pour it forth in the cave in Bethlehem,

To fill with mystical fragrance those who sing:

Blessed are You, God of our Fathers!

The Virgin bearing the incarnate God is thus portrayed poetically as the flowering stem of the root of Jesse (with Christ being the flower), the holy grape vine (with Christ the cluster of grapes who gives his blood as the wine of gladness) and as the container of sweetly fragrant perfume.  Her Son is beauty revealed to us, but also fire.

She who is the tongs

which Isaiah the prophet

beheld of of old

has come bearing in her womb

Christ the divine coal.

He burns up all the causes of sin,

And illumines the souls of the faithful.

The Nativity of Christ offers us the most profound theology in the guise of narrative: God the Word becomes flesh in order to unite humanity to God and thus to bring an end to the reign of death.

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.