As much as I hate to admit it, the Christmas season always shows me just how schizophrenic my emotions can be. It's a time when I can get away from the normalcy of life - which is good, right? But it's in that process that I'm made aware of just how all-over-the-place I actually am. Like most people I know, this time of year captures my attention with things like decorations, music, and presents. But if I concentrate... I mean if I really think long and hard, and move past the distractions of our culture, then notions like Christ, family, and hope might actually be recalled. That is, if I actually manage to wrangle in all of my scattered thoughts and feelings.
As much as I love taking time off from work, feeling the crisp, cool air on my face, and creating memories with my family, I've come to learn that there's one silly thing that I look forward to - sometimes more than anything else - during this time of year: hearing O Holy Night. Placide Cappeau's poem, composed into the Christmas song we all know and love by John Sullivan Dwight, does the same thing to me every year: it calls my heart back from another one of its aimless wanderings.
I know what the Nativity story says inside and out. I listen to Bing Crosby; Christmas Classics, the Elf soundtrack, and Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb albums multiple times every year. I have even consciously begun recognizing Advent like a good Christian. It's not that I can't maintain a focus on the "reason for the season" - but just as all great devotionals can course-correct us for the moment, the winds of selfishness are always at work to carry us back to our old trajectory.
Hence, the aimless wandering.
Enter the phrase many of us love:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, 'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
The depth of this verse captures so much truth. For example, we cannot escape the fact that this life is one of grief: guilt, loneliness, pain, etc. And why is that? Why is it that we lie here in our grief? My first thought quickly jumps to the image given in Ezekiel 16:6. It's just that: waiting. We wait in discomfort because of our world's broken context. We wait here because of sin. We just wait. And it's not that we wait like an old acquaintance waits at one of the smooth, polished wooden tables at Starbucks, slightly anxious to see an old friend. No. we squirm, and hurt, and cry in our own filth. Desperate for relief. This is how we wait. That is, until He comes to meet with us.
It is at this point that we find love. It's here, when God comes to us, that we're picked up, and for the very first time are shown just how much we are adored. We are given worth. Despite our brokenness and all of our frailty, we can't help but then try and muster every ounce of our strength to rejoice in the coming of our King! And in a very Harvey Dentian manner, our darkest nights are finally dissolved by the life of a new sun. Or, as Clement simply put it "The Lord has turned all of my sunsets into sunrises."
From this place, we are tempted still. Tempted to walk away, thinking we'll be fine on our own. Again, we wander - aimlessly - until we pass the place that gravely reminds us of our desperate wallowing. And while here, at this place, we need to be reminded once more. We must fall to our knees, more, and hear the divine proclamation: You are of worth! That is what helps us recognize just how glorious the morn actually is. For when the soul is roused from
its aimless wanderings, it can't help but find joyful fascination with the Voice that not only called it, but continues soothe it.
It's this idea that we celebrate. This coming of the Lord was a time of necessity. And on that, I want to leave you with an devotional excerpt from Jonathan Edwards to think through as you have time:
Christ became ... man, to put himself in a capacity for working out our redemption. For though Christ, as God, was infinitely sufficient for the work, yet to his being in an immediate capacity for it, it was needful that he should not only be God, but man. If Christ had remained only in the divine nature, he would not have been in a capacity to have purchased our salvation; not from any imperfection of the divine nature, but by reason of its absolute and infinite perfection: for Christ, merely as God, was not capable either of that obedience or suffering that was needful. The divine nature is not capable of suffering; for it is infinitely above all suffering. Neither is it capable of obedience to that law which was given to man. It is as impossible that one who is only God, should obey the law that was given to man, as it is that he should suffer man’s punishment. - Jonathan Edwards
Merry Christmas! Enjoy your worth in Christ.