It is not absolutely certain that it was St Ephrem the Syrian who wrote this lyrical praise of Christmas, but the piece is sufficiently beautiful to be attributed to the poetic theologian and father of the church who is known as “the Harp of the Holy Spirit”
LORD, give us leave this day to celebrate thy true birthday, of which the present festival puts us in mind. This day is like thyself: it is the friend of man. Year by year it returns throughout the centuries, growing old with the aged, renewing itself with the new-born child. Year by year it comes to us, passes, and then returns, full of the old magic. It knows that human nature cannot do without it; like thyself, it comes to the rescue of our imperiled race. The whole round earth is thirsting for thy birthday, Lord. In that one happy day are contained all the ages to come; it is one, yet it multiplies itself to infinity. May it then resemble thee again this year, and make peace between heaven and earth.
All days bear the imprint of thy goodness, but today thy goodness brims over. The other days of the year borrow their loveliness from this one; the coming festivals owe to it all their dignity and luster. Thy birthday, Lord, is a treasure great enough to repay the common debt.
Blessed be that day which gave back the light of the sun to us who were astray in the dark, which brought us the sheaf of divine plenty and gave us that vine from which the wine of salvation would be pressed. In the depth of winter, when the trees were stripped of fruit, the vine clothed itself with heavenly foliage; in that icy season a branch sprang from the tree of Jesse. In that month of December which holds deep down in the earth the seed that was entrusted to it, the bud of salvation unfolded itself from the Virgin’s womb, where it was planted in the spring days when the lambs were skipping in their pastures.
TO GOD THE FATHER
TODAY the true sun is risen on the world, today a light has come forth in the midst of the darkened earth: God has become man, so I that man may become God in his turn; the Master takes upon himself the form of a slave, so that the slave may be converted to his Master. He who founded and dwells in the heavens has made his abode on earth, so that man, the earth-bound, may find a new home in heaven.
0 day more brilliant than any sun! season for which all ages have longed! That which the angels were awaiting, that which the cherubim and seraphim and the ministering choirs of heaven knew not, has been revealed in our time. That which they viewed as a reflection in a mirror, we see face to face. He who spoke to the people of Israel through Isaias, Jeremias, and the other prophets, now speaks to us through his Son.
By thy favor, Lord, let the holy angel bring tidings of great joy to Christian people all over the world. Today in David’s city Christ the Lord is born, the salvation of all, the eternal Savior; and in that city, which is the Church, he will reign for ever, guarding and guiding her until the end of time. Grant that his reign over her may be whole and entire, extending throughout the world, and causing her to partake of that eternity which belongs to the citizens of heaven.
Merciful and loving God, whose will and gift it was that our Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself to this end that he might raise up the whole race of men, stooping low to exalt the lowly, a God born of a Virgin to restore in man the lost image of heaven: grant that this people of thine may cleave to thee, and that those whom thou hast freely redeemed may ever give thee zealous and acceptable service.
Merciful God, prepare the minds of the faithful, and subdue unbelieving hearts, to welcome the surpassing mystery of thy Son’s human birth.
TO THE INCARNATE WORD
THIS IS the day on which the Savior of the earth, the Light of the world, shone forth. On this day the Savior of Israel came down from the pinnacle of heaven to set free all those whom the ancient enemy held captive by reason of Adam’s fault; he came down so that blind souls might have light and deaf souls might hear. The mountains and hills leap for joy, the very foundations of the world break into song, thrilled by the great mystery of his incarnation and all the good it has brought.
For our part, let us humbly entreat our Redeemer to show us his love and mercy. May our souls, begrimed by sin, be cleansed by heartfelt contrition, so that his light may shine gloriously in and about us, and the bliss of salvation be ours to enjoy for ever.
For our sake a child is born, to our race a Son is given. Thou who art thy Father’s full-grown Son hast become thy mother’s baby; in heaven, infinite: here, tiny; abiding in thy Father’s bosom, yet carried in thy mother’s womb; changeless in Godhead, peerless in thy humanity, because for ever one and the same in both; in thy divine nature our Creator, and in thy human our Redeemer.
Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, God and Man; as God, infinite, yet from the beginning destined to become man; God before time was, Man in process of time; all-embracing, all-transcending; from whom all beings have life; thou who wast born for our sake, have mercy upon us.
Abiding still within thy own Godhead, thou showest thyself in our midst; self-centered, thou comest to our help; not lacking power from the Father to pass judgment upon us wretches, thou comest in mercy to save us; while filling the heavens, thou dost not abandon the earth. Without abating thy infinite majesty as Creator, complete in us, we pray thee, the work of a most kind Redeemer; and let that pity which led thee to pay our ransom move thee also to pardon our misdeeds.
We have had sight of thy glory, Lord, glory such as belongs to the Father’s only-begotten Son: sole-born in Godhead, first-born in earthly rank; in heaven the only Son of the Father, here on earth the chief among thy brethren; there one with the Father, here the first among thy fellows; there abiding in the Father’s bosom, his equal, here never deserting thy companions; there creating, here renewing. Give us grace to become partners of thy kingdom, since for us thou madest reparation on earth. Thou who camest into this world to redeem us, be our reward in the world to come.
God, who in putting on humanity didst of thy own accord become our partner in weakness; make us thy partners in the glory of thy heavenly kingdom.
Thou hast risen upon us, Jesus Christ, true Sun of Justice. Thou hast come down from heaven, Redeemer of mankind, and built for us a rampart of salvation. Thou, the everlasting Son of the Most High, born as man from the stock of David, as ancient prophecies foretold, hast been pleased to forgive thy people, and blotting out the record of our primal sin, hast opened a triumphal way to eternal life.
New therefore, we pray thee, let us behold the depths of thy mercy. Eternal Savior, rescue us from the devilish foe, make us zealous in holy living, keep us from straying into peril of death, and lead us, by the straight path of thy service, which is peace, 0 Savior of the world, who art God, living and reigning, and ruling with God the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
This praise of Christmas is attributed to Ephrem (aka Ephraem) “the Harp of the Holy Spirit.”