Tomorrow is the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, or, the Purification of Mary, celebrating the events of Luke 2:22-40. As I’ve suggested and explored here before, using these 40 days from Christmas Day until tomorrow is a great way to crawl through the massive collection of Christmas songs in our hymnals. A good choice for the last of these hymns is From East to West, from shore to shore.
This is an ancient hymn, its text written in Latin by Coelius Sedulius around the year 450. As often is the case with ancient hymns, its English translation has been set to several different tunes, so I’m not going to include a YouTube link this time; the lyrics will have to suffice.
From East to West is a good choice for the end of this extended run of Christmas hymns because its lyrics touch upon some thematic material that makes it fitting for this point in the calendar:
- The appeal for “every heart”, “from East to West, from shore to shore,” to awake and sing about the newborn Christ, is very Epiphany-appropriate. The song starts immediately with that world-wide invitation to worship Jesus.
- The epiphany theme of revealing the divinity of Jesus is also prominent in this song, which identifies him with godly epithets such as “the everlasting King” and “the world’s Creator” and “the Lord most high.”
- Mary plays a relatively prominent role in these lyrics, anticipating her prominent role in the feast of the Presentation tomorrow. Here she is celebrated, “a maiden in her lowly place,” who becomes “the chosen vessel of his grace.” In the doxology, the final verse of the hymn, Jesus is named as the “Virgin-born.”
In all, this is a fantastic hymn that works for Epiphanytide almost as well as for Christmastide. I wouldn’t be afraid to pull it out almost any time of year, come to think of it, if I knew I’d be preaching or teaching Christology. It plays out the dual reality of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, his lowliness and his exaltation, marvelously.
Perhaps you can read or sing it at the Daily Office or other time of devotion today?
From east to west, from shore to shore Let ev’ry heart awake and sing
The holy child whom Mary bore, The Christ, the everlasting king.
Behold, the world’s creator wears The form and fashion of a slave;
Our very flesh our maker shares, His fallen creature, man, to save.
For this how wondrously He wrought! A maiden, in her lowly place,
Became, in ways beyond all thought, The chosen vessel of His grace.
And while the angels in the sky Sang praise above the silent field,
To shepherds poor the Lord Most High, the one great Shepherd, was revealed.
All glory for this blessed morn To God the Father ever be;
All praise to You, O Virgin-born, And Holy Ghost, to thee. Amen.