Some people don’t get Christianity, or any religion. They hear a phrase like, “Have you found the Lord?” and they cringe a little or roll their eyes. I don’t blame them for being dismissive. I’ve done a lot of eye rolling myself. But cynicism and flippancy won’t get us far in the pursuit of truth. The thing about Christianity, what is valid and vital, is… well, Jesus, the Christ. Anyone’s honest, deep, personal encounter with Christ shouldn’t be dismissed – for to do so is to miss the heart of the matter that we call life.
None of us are all that we want to be… or all that we could be or even should be. We all miss the mark. And we know it. This is not only because we are inherently fallible and prone to mistakes, but also because we willfully fall short of the ideal. We choose to hurt people. We wallow in self-pity. We want what we want, while pushing aside what we truly need. We “look out for number one” and then suffer the loneliness. And we are wounded… weary. Wondering in the darkness of the world, we inevitably long for light to show us our true worth and the depth of reality that is hidden from us.
Christ, in whom the fullness of divinity is pleased to dwell*, is inherently different. Ultimate Reality, Truth Itself, the Uncaused Cause, the Uncreated Creator becomes a creature. Christ’s coming into and embracing our human existence in the depths of its poverty changes everything – not only in history, but also in the immediacy of our own individual lives. The intimacy of God with us, of God within us, breaks our hardened hearts, opens our eyes… and awakens our souls to the eternally rich newness of life as new beings with the knowledge of infinite love.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ – both in our world and in our hearts. The sacred reality of Christianity and all genuine encounters with Christ is voiced through the Christmas song, “O Holy Night”. And this is what such an epiphany, what finding the Lord, can feel like:
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees,
and hear the angel voices –
O night divine…”
And to live that moment with the whole of one’s life — this is true Christianity, the real fullness of life:
“Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us praise His holy name.”
So, even though I confess that there is still a little part of me cringing when I say this, my soul’s voice sings, “Praise Jesus!”
May this praise pulse through me with every beat of my heart.
Original French poem by Placide Cappeau, English translation/alteration by John Sullivan Dwight