I remember as a young girl riding in the backseat of my parents’ station wagon as we drove the all-too-familiar two-hour trek to my grandparents’ house for Christmas. My dad usually worked at the hospital on Christmas Eve so we would rarely get on the road before dark. As we navigated the twists and turns of those North Georgia mountain roads, we could see the stars so clearly from the rear-facing, bucket seats. And anyone who grew up in the 80’s knows exactly what I’m talking about! That’s when Christmas began for me. And not just because of the amazing view of the starry host, but because of the soundtrack of carols that played on every backwoods station we could find on our FM radio. Yes, Christmas had finally arrived!
Perhaps my all-time favorite of these carols was the classic, O Holy Night:
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
It’s neat to think back to the depth of theology I was singing as a young child, having little to no understanding of the true meaning of those lyrics. Yet something resonated. Could it have been that my own soul was desperate to know its worth? The story told in this age-old carol is the very plight of each of our souls, as well as the world itself. And though the first line of this carol may hark back to Luke 2, the concept introduced takes us back even further.
In Genesis 1, we hear the story of creation, how God breathed the cosmos into being, called mankind from the dust, and declared that all of it was good. Yet only a few chapters later, mankind seems to think they know better, disobeys God, and a brokenness called sin enters the world. So, when we consider the amount of time that had passed between Genesis 3 and Luke 2, “long” is quite an understatement. The world waited in that fractured state. Sure, with glimpses of hope and regular reassurances of God’s faithfulness and commitment to His people, but still fractured all the same and pining for deliverance and restoration. Then it happened. The prophet Isaiah foretells it as “the people walking in darkness seeing a great light.” Luke gives us a more descriptive narrative telling us the shepherds were lying in their fields until suddenly being scared out of their minds by a host of angels, bringing excellent, magnificent news: “A Savior is born this day!”
Yet of all the ways the carol writer could have proclaimed this truth… instead of writing that Christ appeared and fulfilled God’s promise to Israel, or he appeared to begin His reign on earth as it is in heaven, the carol writer describes his coming in a much more intimate, and more personal way:
He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
Even though humanity believed they knew better and forfeited the comfort and perfection of living in harmony with their Creator, and, even though, the same humanity constantly tried to meet their needs and fix their problems apart from God, God chose to see their brokenness and send Jesus, our Immanuel, “God with us,” so that we might know Him. Were we worthy of such a sacrifice? Absolutely not. But the very act of God sending Jesus gave worth to our souls. The same God who created us in His image sent Jesus to redeem us, not because of any merit on our end but simply out of his delight and choosing of us. This very day, despite what we have done or failed to do, or how highly or lowly we view ourselves, our weary souls can feel worth. And not because we ourselves are worthy; simply because the gift of Jesus’s coming to redeem us has solidified that worth. You are a treasure that has been purchased at a great cost.
How will we respond this Christmas to the wonder of such an act of mercy? I’m glad you asked. I think these last few lines give us a great start.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
This Christmas, may we acknowledge the brokenness of our world, and the residue of the fall that we can’t whitewash simply because it’s Christmas. But rather than allowing it to cause our souls to despair, may we rejoice, maybe even fall on our knees in gratitude. Jesus has come and will come again, and our souls can rejoice at the gift we have received!
Photo by David Beale on Unsplash