Today I happened to hear Josh Groban’s rendering of “O Holy Night”. He knows how to sing that song. The thing that struck me — as it always does when I hear the song — was the first line of the chorus:
Fall on your knees, O hear the angels’ voices.
In a barn behind an inn, hidden away from prying eyes, a teenage girl’s time has come. In pain, with blood, she gives birth to a boy, a bastard by the standards of his day. The umbilical cord is cut — by Joseph? — and that distinctive newborn cry calls out into the night. The girl puts him to the breast, and he suckles. Not so much different than a thousand other births in that time.
I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
But this birth was different. This was God — immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing; creator of everything that was and is and will be — pouring himself into a newborn child, a mortal. This was Immanuel, God with us, God among us; God in our flesh, becoming one of us. Not just in part, but in whole. Some of the greatest minds of Western Civilization debated what that could possibly mean, and could arrive only at a series of negatives: It’s not this; it’s not that; it’s not that other either. Until they had defined the boundaries of the mystery. But inside those boundaries lay a mystery forever beyond them. And us. God among us, seeking that which was lost. And everything changed.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth
Fall on your knees, O hear the angels’ voices. What else can we do in the face of this mystery? What else can we do when confronted with this God? What else can we do when everything — yes everything — has changed through no thought or prayer or good deed or herculean effort of our own, through nothing that we did for God, but solely through what this child would do for us.
That is what Christmas is about.