Journal

Contemplative Life

‘Til He Appeared

“The Adoration of the Magi” by Edward Burne-Jones, 1904

In all of history there has been one night that was completely unlike any other.  The night when Jesus, the Son of God, became flesh and lived among us. The first verse of the carol O Holy Night’s elegantly expresses what happened that night:

O 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
’til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn

There had been countless other starry nights. Of all those before and since, none compare to the majesty of that night. That night, when Jesus appeared on earth as a baby, changed everything. “It was the night of our dear Savior’s birth.”

This verse from Oh, Holy Night expresses two core elements at the heart of the miracle of the incarnation, reminding us of our worth and giving us hope.

The middle of the verse contains my favorite line “He appeared and the soul felt its worth”. O Holy Night establishes the personal effect of Jesus’ appearance. Every soul, each person, is valued and loved by God, so much that Jesus – God himself – appeared on earth. When we feel worthless or when others might tell us we are worthless to them, we can fall back on the knowledge that God’s incarnation fundamentally and conclusively refutes that. No one is worthless. Jesus came and His coming speaks to humanity, personally and collectively, saying “you have worth”. And we can know that Jesus’ appearance is a testament to the worth of our souls.

O Holy Night observes that Jesus appeared into a world that was far from perfect, a world longing for justice, mercy and care. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining” speaks to the world’s desire to be set right. Jesus was not deterred by the state of that world He entered.  Hope, then, is the second important message of Jesus’ incarnation, the promise of redemption in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Hope came that night of our dear Savior’s birth.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices” offers insight into the nature of Christian hope. A thrill of hope is sudden and surprising, and when no one really expected it, Jesus came. The night gave way not to a conquering hero, but to a vulnerable baby, who brought to the hope and promise of unbounded grace. He appeared, hope displaced despair, and a weary world rejoiced, “for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”.  That new morn looked forward to an even more glorious day, a day when a stone would be rolled away, a day that would see Jesus rise triumphant over sin and death, a day that opened to us life in Jesus.

These are the promises of Jesus’ Incarnation, God’s display of his love for us, showing us our worth and promising a hope of salvation because He appeared.  “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining.”

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