Monday, December 20, 2010

Love's Pure Light

Another favorite Christmas carol of mine is Silent Night.

This last Sunday morning, as our church celebrated Christmas by worshipping to many of our famous carols, we sang the third verse to Silent Night.

"Silent night, holy night.
Son of God, love's pure light."

I had never noticed the apostrophe in the word "love's" before.  I had always thought that it was the conjugated verb, to love.  I had thought it meant that the Son of God was in love with pure light.

But this missed the point of the line and what makes the whole verse a theological gem.

You see, love is meant as a noun.  And the noun is a metaphor for God Himself.  "God is love," John tells us in his first epistle.

The Son of God is "Love's pure light."  As it says in Hebrews 1: 3, "The Son is the radiance of God's glory, the exact representation of his being..."

Read it with the rest of the verse:
"Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth."

Jesus, at his birth, is like the dawning of the rising sun.  God radiates his presence through the Son.

"...the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace" (Luke 1: 78b-79).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is one of my favorite Christmas Carols.  But do we really understand what this first line means?

This 500-year-old song first became popular outside of the church.  It was not written in Latin, but the common language of England.  And the tune was so upbeat that people could dance to it.  No wonder that the reform-minded author, Charles Dickens, mentions it in his wildly popular novel (and one of my favorites as well), A Christmas Carol.  Although he changes the word "rest" to "bless."

Because of its outsider, populist status, it wasn't even published until 19th century Victorian England.

According to Ace Collins in Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Zondervan, 2001), the word "rest" means "make or keep" and "merry" means "great or mighty." By adding a comma after "merry", the meaning becomes: "God make you mighty, gentlemen."

But I believe this still requires a little further cultural translation so that we can get to the heart of the sentence:

 "God greatly bless and encourage you, gentlemen."

In other words, the story of Christmas, the story of the birth of the Son of God, is an encouraging and uplifting story for all men.  "Be encouraged, gentlemen, for Christ was born on Christmas day, destroying the power of Satan and bringing hope for all mankind."

We have a message of great hope and joy for the world.  What better time to share that message with the world than at Christmas?

"Oh tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
Oh tidings of comfort and joy!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Waiting for the Sunrise

In the final prophetic book of the Old Testament, Malachi promises a Day of the Lord where God's light will rise to vindicate the faithful.  The metaphor of a sunrise is powerful:

"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall" (Mal. 4: 2).

"Advent" is the season of four weeks preceding the celebration of Christmas, the birth of the Messiah. It is the season during which we await his arrival.  With his birth, came the rising of the sun of righteousness.  The arrival of the Son of God is like the rising of the morally pure sun in a world dominated by the morally corrupt darkness.

During this season, we can get preoccupied with preparing for the material events--special gatherings and meals, decorations, and gift-giving.  These are all actually rather morally-neutral activities. Whether or not they are "good" things depends on our hearts as we do them.

Perhaps we need to make sure we also get engaged in the spiritual event that we are celebrating--the advent of the Son of God--while we are still doing the material events.  All it takes is a slight "tweak" to what we may already be planning.  While we're doing our decorating, let's allow our souls to be delighted with the beauty of it all.  When we sit down to a meal together, give people a chance to share a word of appreciation to everyone else.  When we exchange gifts, let's begin with a prayer of thanks for God's Gift to us.

"For God so loved the world that he gave...Jesus!"