It is not the story of the stable and manger, shepherds and angels that is essential for Christmas: after all, only two of the four Gospels mention them. It is the fact of the Incarnation, God entering our human race, that is crucial. This hymn celebrates this theme to the full, with emphasis at the beginning on who it was that came—the Alpha and Omega, the Father’s instrument in creation—continuing by urging all Creation to celebrate in song, and ending by looking forward to Christ’s return as judge. This hymn by the Spanish lawyer and then monk, Prudentius, has taken many hands to produce a satisfactory translation, and perhaps in the twenty-first century needs a complete new look.
The fine rolling tune that swings us along through the many verses had a long history from the eleventh century, in various liturgical forms, but reaches us in the version from a strange book of 1582 called Piae Cantiones (‘Devout Songs’) which is a treasure trove of old Catholic hymns adapted for the use of the protestant Swedish Church.
from notes by Alan Luff © 2002