It’s Christmas Day. Packages are unwrapped, my wife and baby are both dozing…and I’m listening to “O Holy Night” for about the 50th time this Christmas season.
I’m not sure why suddenly this song has grabbed me by the heart, throat, and anything else it can metaphorically grab. I’ve always liked it–nice melody, complicated chord structure, good opportunities for harmony. I probably have ten or so interpretations of it, my favorites this year tending to be Kendall Payne’s and Andy Zipf’s.
But suddenly the lyrics are just…well, they’re wrecking me.
This song has reminded me of the very subversive nature of what Jesus really came to do. Too often Christianity in the late 20th/early 21st century West has mixed with commercialism and rigidity. Whether or not the analysis is true, many outside the church think that it’s about rituals and behavior, trying to find hope in ancient stories, blocking the influence of the world while simultaneously trying to “Christian-ize” it.
Missing from most people’s understanding is…well, is the whole point.
Listening to “O Holy Night”, I am struck that no human could have made up this Savior, this Story. Had he been made up by humans, He would come in a blaze of glory, weapons at the ready, prepared to topple the system. He would put people in line or kick them out of the kingdom. He would pick followers based on their abilities, potential, behavior.
He did none of this.
He came in humility, lived in humility, loved all people but especially those who were forced into poor and humble circumstances. He taught His followers to live humbly, to serve, and to give up everything. Then He gave up everything, suffering an excruciating (the very word has at its root crucify) death that He didn’t deserve. I did. You did. Everyone He loved deserved it, but He loved them–us–so much that He took it for them.
Even when He resurrected, He showed humility. He didn’t go to the leaders of Rome and say, “Aha! What now?” He didn’t fly around glowing. He knew something that I have since discovered–even when presented with clear evidence to the Truth of Christ, if a person doesn’t want to believe it, he won’t. I remember seeing a powerful and inarguable miracle on a mission trip, and coming back to Vermont to tell my best friend from high school, a friend I love very much even though we don’t always know what to say to each other, and his only response was, “Hmm. Sure wish you had documented it.” He doesn’t (yet) want to believe.
There are three verses to the song, but most people skip the middle verse. But all this truth is right there in the song.
In the first verse: “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!” A hopeless world, a world stuck without a path of redemption, is given a second chance. Falling on your knees is a natural response if you grasp this. It takes me about 30 seconds of television–any station–to be reminded of how hurting, lost, misguided, broken, empty, deceived, and shallow this world is. People are living for nothing but poison because they don’t know something better is exist. They’ve been taught it’s naive and ridiculous to think so.
And then the third verse: “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother/and in His name all oppression shall cease.” What a claim. But a claim I whole heartedly believe.
I am a person He has freed from chains. Chains of lust, selfishness. I am not the person I once was, and I was changed not by my own efforts, but by the love of Christ, who was both God and man, carrying Mary and the Holy Spirit’s DNA.
But I think this claim is even more subversive than that. I think it speaks to those in literal chains.
There are more slaves in the world today than there have ever been in the history of humanity–the number is in the 10s of millions. There are even slaves in America–locked in sweatshops in New York City and L.A., forced into sexual slavery in Chicago, held in compounds in Florida, picking fruit for nearly no wages.
It is safe to say that without the efforts of Christians like William Wilberforce, men and women who truly believed the gospel was meant to give hope to every human, that every human was equal because they were image bearers of God, slavery would at least have lasted longer in England and the rest of the West than it actually did. And that is just one example. I amazed at the ignorance or vindictiveness of those who claim that Christianity has been responsible for most of the world’s ills, as they conveniently overlook the good real Christians have done, confuse the work of greedy men working in the name of the church, and ignore the horrors of the 20th century that can be directly pinned on the turning away from Christianity.
And we are meant to be setting captives free today. We have been set free. How can we stand by while others are crushed by injustice. How can we drink bottled water out of plastic bottles that suck the world’s resources, when we have the cleanest drinking supply in history, and the money used yearly could provide wells with clean water to every village in Africa, where people die daily from a lack of clean drinking water?
Christ came to turn the world upside-down. A baby is born in a feeding trough in a small town in Palestine, and the ripples are still felt today. And His followers are meant to turn the world upside-down today. Let’s do it in 2009. Let’s live by the law of love and gospel of peace. Let’s break chains, knowing every slave–whether they be a literal slave or a slave to consumerism or whatever–is our brother. Let’s stop oppression.
Let’s not waste what we’ve been given.
Christ is the Lord. Praise His name forever. His power and glory evermore proclaim.