O Holy Night ~ BENEATH THE SURFACE WITH PAUL MURANO
By: Paul Murano – Dec. 2016
Christmas season brings out many timeless songs that have been sung for generations, both religious and secular, which brings warmth to the heart. I enjoy the secular side of Christmas and its mythological figures of Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph. In essence it is a celebration of winter in its unique beauty and wonder. It adds to the intrigue of the season for children, and makes the long winters of New England much more bearable for adults. This is why Dennis Prager, a prominent and devout Jew, considers Christmas his holiday. It is a national holiday for every American, those who believe Christ to be divine Savior and those who do not. It is a holiday that uniquely brings ‘peace on earth to people of good will.’ Why would anyone stop saying “Merry Christmas”, Prager sadly wonders
Yet, Christmas celebrated by Christians comes with an additional astonishing claim; one that is either absolutely bizarre or absolutely life-changing. Christmas claims that the invisible eternal infinite Creator of the universe took on a human nature and became part of His own creation – one of us – with a body and soul, in time and space. That is either the most arrogant androcentric claim ever made in the history of the world or it is the most profound truth demanding our continuous attention and awe. One cannot sort-of, kind-of believe this claim and then live daily life normally. It is an earthquake, not a rainbow.
Although Christians come to believe this amazing doctrine through the supernatural gift of faith, there are ways to come to knowledge of God’s existence as well as the Incarnation (God becoming man) through natural human reason. Let us examine beneath the surface one line in my personal favorite Christmas carol, O Holy Night:
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”
This is rife with meaning. Not everyone calls it sin, but on some deep level everyone senses the reality that something is lacking. We live in a world of injustice, selfishness, and suffering. Every human heart pines for more. We see this in the “happily-ever-after” themes of plays, novels, movies, and songs from the beginning of our existence. We seek perfect happiness in marriage, but that falls short. We seek it in money and material goods, but this doesn’t satisfy. Sometimes life is so painful we seek to dull the ache with drugs, alcohol, pornography, and “relationships”. This makes things worse. In pre-Christian times life was brutal and human dignity was recognized only in the powerful few. In post-Christian times that same indignity has reappeared, this time more subtly in the killing of the unborn. Like the body pines for water in the desert, which is where we have been metaphorically since our departure from Eden, the soul pines for grace – divine life, which Christ won for mankind through His sacrifice. No other animal experiences this kind of “pining” because only humanity was made for this kind of union with God. Nothing else fully satisfies.
What might it mean that the soul felt its worth? What are you and I worth? There are two ways to answer this question through faith. First, we recall: “God made man in His image. In the divine image He created him, male and female He created them” (Gn 1:26-27). No other earthly creature was made in God’s image with a mind to know truth and a will to love. No other earthly creatures are persons, like God is. We have the magnificent ability to rise above our physiological constitution to govern ourselves freely according to the true and good. Further, we possess the breathtaking gift of being able to have a relationship with the divine personal Creator, who is Love, without whom our souls pine and know not their worth.
A second place to discover our worth is in the Incarnation. God broke into history, His-story, and became man at the Annunciation (March 25th) as an embryo, and was born nine months later at Christmas. This is how the soul feels its worth: Out of His infinite love for each one of us, God came to save us from ourselves, from the temporal and eternal misery we made for ourselves. He became the new Adam, saying ‘Yes’ to God to nullify the effects of the first Adam’s ‘No’. Each human being is immeasurably valuable to God, regardless of who we are, how much money we have, or how attractive we are to the world. Knowing this is liberating.
The real message of Christmas is both natural and supernatural; temporary and eternal. It celebrates the new birth of the sun (winter solstice), but more importantly the new birth of the Son. Understood and embraced, it makes the world cry out:
“The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new a glorious morn!”
May you have a merry, and joyous, Christmas season!