Turning our Hearts to Christmas

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There are all kinds of songs, pictures, stories and symbols that we surround ourselves with during this meaningful holiday. Some of us may find ourselves in tune with the nativity scenes, Christmas hymns, illuminated stars we've put up around our house. This year I found myself quite desensitized to many of the "trappings" I've seen and heard year after year, and it took me quite a while to "tune in" to the experience of Christmas. Why is that?

The imagery of both the Christmas hymn "O Holy Night" and Guido Reni's ceiling painting "Christ in Glory Between Angels and Archangels" is quite familiar to us who have grown up in a Christian-influenced, western culture. We are familiar with seeing rosy-cheeked baby angels and robed figures around a portrait of Christ backlit with sunlight. We know the tune of "Oh night divine, when Christ was born" and can picture the carolers in a Charles Dickens storybook. We've grown up with the music, the words, pictures and the style, but do we know how important it is?

I'm not talking about the artists and writers being important, which yes, they are great creative people that have blessed us with reflections to enjoy, but I'm talking about the importance of the subject matter. Sometimes, when something is so familiar, we can't reflect on its original message. What does a portrait of Christ backlit with the sun mean? What is the significance of him holding that cross in the sky with angels? When combining these three things: the painting, this hymn and Philippians 2:1-11, an amazing drama comes life.

Think about the statement "a thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices," and look at the center of that painting, see the sunlight. Then, think about the next statement, "fall on your knees! Oh hear the angels' voices!" And look around at the scene circling Christ. 

Don't we know what a weary world feels like? Think about all the people at work, school, in town, out of town, all over your life, and think about how they may feel weary about the world, Christ, and people of our generation. Personally, I've found people around me to be very weary culturally. They are weary of the world, the country, the weather, and worst of all, many seem weary of Christ and his people. This season becomes a sensitive topic where Christians fight for the prominence of the Christmas holiday, preserving the name of Christmas trees and the existence of nativity scenes. But what if all of us believers stopped thinking about the Christmas aesthetics and looked at the big-picture message? When you put these three things side-by-side: Philippians 2:1-11, O Holy Night, and Reni's Angel painting with Jesus, an amazing line comes through to me: the third verse of O Holy Night.

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
— O Holy Night

Look at how this parallels Philippians 2, "So if there is any encouragement in Christ...complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love...Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves...Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus..." Christ is calling us - and enabling us - to be his presence on this earth by loving others. This is what relates to our daily lives and makes Christmas significant to our world. Christ came and was bursting will all sorts of reasons to be glorious and worthy of that magnificent image we see on Remi's ceiling. He came to save us from our sin, bring us to himself, and stop oppression and suffering on this earth by turning us into people just like him. Of course, the work on this earth will only be partial until his final coming, but we get a foretaste now. We get to see small glimpses of the end of suffering through selflessness and Christ-likeness. That is what tuned me into Christmas this year. Not until I remembered Christ's coming into my heart did the hymns and decorations seem to sing to me and warm me.

Philippians 2:1-11

"O Holy Night" - David Phelps

David Phelps - "O Holy Night"