If there were ever a season for the believer to recognize his or her worth and focus on the dignity of his or her fellow human being, it is the Advent season!
Advent is a season of waiting, preparation and expectation for the incarnation of the Savior, Jesus Christ. The word is literally defined as “coming.” The mysterious beauty of the incarnation, God made flesh, captivates us as we meditate on what this means for our lives. Not only does this season symbolize the expectation of Jesus’s first coming but it is also a reflection of the longing on our hearts for the return of Christ when we will realize how things ought to be. The incarnation of Christ reveals this to us and is wonderfully portrayed through the age-old hymn, “O Holy Night.”
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of hymns composed on the subject, which breathe new life into the message scripture proclaimed nearly 2000 years ago. “O Holy Night” is one that captures my heart most. The hymn was originally composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847, the lyrics were based off the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by Placide Cappaeu. Interestingly enough, Cappeau was an atheist and Adam was a Jew – but that did not keep God from using both of them to create an incredible piece of music, whose words continue to strike hearts and minds throughout the world today. Words that teach on the incarnation and what it means for self-reflection and outward interaction.
Freed From The Darkness
“Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”
The lines above are what struck me first from this song about three years ago. Of course, I had heard “O Holy Night” year after year each Christmas – but the words have never really soaked in. The Holy Spirit re-introduced the song to me when I had become deeply aware of the weight of my sin and had lost my sense of worth. The weight had begun to suffocate me. I would sit paralyzed out of fear of my wretchedness, worried that if I moved I would cause more destruction. I felt unworthy of God’s love and had allowed myself to forget His grace.
I was driving in my car one afternoon listening to Brady Toops’ version of “O Holy Night.” The words, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining” came out of the speakers and immediately connected to the feeling in my soul. That was me: pining in my sin, my filth, my brokenness. How would I recover from this state?
And then I heard, “Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” My heart almost skipped a beat and my eyes welled up with tears; because it hit me – the night of our savior’s birth changes everything. And the next lyric came in perfectly as though reading my mind, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder break a new and glorious morn.” It was like I was hearing the gospel of grace all over again. The Spirit was reminding my weary soul that God had not left me in a state of sin and error. God entered the world as fully God and fully man, in order redeem what once was lost from him: his people. The incarnation is the beginning of God bringing back those who were made in His image, but cursed because of sin. He became man to reveal that man was always a part of the plan – we are worthy to be His and to be used for His glory.
And the hymnist sings the only proper response to this truth, “Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices.”
Freed to Love and Restore
“Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace”
Not only does Christ’s incarnation reveal to us our own worth, but it also teaches us how to live. Christ’s life on this earth is the ultimate example of love, forgiveness, mercy and grace. The lyrics above echo these attributes. Jesus says in Matthew 22:36-40, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
We are freed from ourselves and freed to love. No longer am I paralyzed by the weight of my sin, questioning God’s love for me. We are no longer left trapped by sin and error. We are freed from the curse and freed to serve.
“Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease”
I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it best:
“And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The incarnate Lord makes his followers the brothers of all mankind.”
All of this points us forward to the second coming of Christ, when a new “holy night” will be established.
So in this season we wait in the hope that Christ has already saved us from our sin. We long for his return knowing that human dignity is restored through Jesus’s life. We cry out to God saying, “Jesus, come soon” so that we too can see and hear what John retold in Revelation 21: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”