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December 21, 2017

Why at Christmas Your Soul Can Feel Its Worth

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“O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine.”  

“Oh, Holy Night,” Words by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure

I’ve grown up singing and hearing this Christmas hymn sung in church ever since I was a small child.  And something about the ache in the music and the words usually sends tears running down my cheeks, especially if my friend Sarah Fusiler is singing it.

But it wasn’t until recently that I began to pay attention to what the fourth line in the first verse means.  I’m not sure if I had ever really paid attention to the fourth line, or if I just didn’t have capacity to understand what it was saying until God did a work of healing in my own heart:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining / Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth”

Usually my greatest moments of wrestling and darkness occur when I am struggling to understand and believe my worth.  Because so many times I just don’t feel that valuable.  I’m wired to measure my life by its tangible accomplishments, by its moments of finished tasks and measurable successes.  By the number of people I have helped and the “great things” I have accomplished.

The problem is, at the end of every day, most of my accomplishments are things like how many carpools I’ve rearranged, how many math and spelling lessons I’ve taught, how many times I’ve wiped Mia Grace’s bottom (and trust me, that girl has to go more times in a day than I thought humanly possible), and how many articles of dirty clothing I’ve picked up off the floor.  Accomplishments that aren’t exactly high on the list of helping my soul “feel its worth.”

But a slow, small, subtle shift has been taking place in my soul this year.  A shift of allowing the love of the Lord to fill in the ruts of reproach “which I dread” and learning to listen to His verdict over me, which is “good” (Psalm 119:39).  (For more on this, click here to read a previous blog.)

And His verdict goes something like this:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Luke 1:76-79

Recognize those words?

They are Zechariah’s unbound, loosed lips words, rolling off of a tongue that had just been set free from unbelief in a God who did not answer personal promises or could not do great things.

God shut Zechariah’s mouth when he refused to believe the angel Gabriel’s promise that Zechariah’s barren wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son in her old age, a son who would prepare people’s hearts for the coming of the Lord (Luke 1:5-25).  And it was only when John the Baptist, this promised son, was born and named according to God’s Word to Zechariah, that Zechariah’s lips were loosed and the unbelief in his heart was healed, and he was set free.  His heart was healed to believe the worth of his soul…and his wife’s soul…and his son’s soul.  And he was set free to believe that God is a God who always answers His promises to His people.  He answers them on big, corporate, widespread levels, and He answers them on small, individual, personal levels.  And how He answers them is always Jesus.  By sending Jesus.  And then by helping us see our souls in the light of the coming of Jesus.

Just as Zechariah recognized in the life of his son, John the Baptist, we too must recognize that our worth is not bound up in our accomplishments.  As my Bible study teacher, Chad Chambers, reminded our class on Sunday, our worth is bound up in our ability to recognize, see, and take our place in the story of Christ.  And while we may not end up living in the desert, eating locusts, baptizing men and women as a prophet of God, we will, make no mistake, prepare the way of the Lord in the lives of other people according to the unique, specific, and individual ways God has made us.

And the more we learn to look for the thread of this story running through our lives, the more satisfied, content, and full of peace we will be (Luke 1:79).  Instead of stumbling and fumbling around in the darkness, tripping over our own mistakes, insignificance, and unworthiness, we will lift our faces to the light and learn to see our souls and the souls of those around us according to the light, the light of the “Sunrise from on high that has visited us” (Luke 1:78).

And just as Zechariah spoke his son’s story over him, we need a good father to speak our story over us.  And that’s what I’ve been learning to do this year.  I’ve been learning to close my ears to the story of dread or despair I often tell myself and open my ears to the story the Spirit of God through the Word of God tells my heart each and every morning, each and every day.  It’s a story woven through each and every word of Scripture, and it goes something like this:

We know our worth when He appeared – when Christ, who was God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, of you and of me.  He humbled Himself to be confined in the womb of a woman, to be born onto straw and hay, to be swaddled in roughly spun cloth, to flee His birth place and spend the first few years of his life as a refugee in Egypt, to return to His home country to live in occupied territory as a second class citizen under the fist of Rome, and to be raised in obscure poverty by no-name peasant parents.  He humbled Himself to be persecuted and rejected by His own people and by all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, crucified and hung on a tree, and then raised on the third day (see Philippians 2:5-8).  And why did He do all of this?  Why all the emptying?  Why all of the humbling and humiliation?  Why all of the blood, sweat, obscurity, poverty, tears, and death?  All so that our souls, my soul and your soul, could know their worth.

Because, apparently, that’s what we’re worth.  Christ looked at our souls from heaven, bound up in darkness and death, slaves to fear, and ached for the glory of God to be alive in us.  Ached for the mercy of God to be made manifest to us.  Longed for the comfort of God to come alongside of us and the debt of sin that we could not erase to be paid for us.  So He did all that so our souls could know their worth.

It takes one’s breath away, doesn’t it?  It puts an ache in our chest and tears in the corners of our eyes, doesn’t it?  That someone would think we were worth all that, someone who also happens to be King of the world as well as King of our hearts.

So out of response to that story, to the only story really worth telling and listening to, I wrote my own version of Oh, Holy Night as an overflow of gratitude to the One who came to tell my soul what it was worth, accomplishments, or no accomplishments.  Great deeds or small deeds.  Big name or no name at the end of the day or at the end of my life.

I wrote the words and my daughter, Lillian, who is 11, put the words to music of her own.  This is our very first work of “musical collaboration”, and I hope you enjoy it, remembering as you listen that it comes from a very inadequate poet and a very young musician.

As you listen, let the coming of Christ, the humility of Christ, and the beauty of Christ, tell your soul what its worth.  Not your accomplishments, not what you did or did not do today, this month, or this year.  But what someone else did on your behalf over two thousand years ago.

So fall on your knees, and hear the angel voices, and in celebrating the coming of Christ this Christmas, may your soul know its worth.

Click here to listen to the song as you read the words:

“Your Soul Can Feel Its Worth”

On Christmas Day
When Christ came down
My soul it dared to feel
It was not lost but it was found
When God in flesh appeared.

When Christ came down
He lit the dark,
He lit the dark of night,
He pierced my soul and helped me see
My soul was worth the fight.

So fall on your knees
Hear the angel voices
Christ has come, Christ was born
Christ has died, Christ has risen,
Your soul can feel its worth.

This God in flesh,
This God made man,
Pushed back my fear and dread
Helped me to feel the weight of glory
Bound up in words He said.

So come to Christ,
Come to the Child,
And lay your burdens down,
And what is lacking will be filled
His worth will fill your soul.

~Words by Susannah Baker, Music by Lillian Baker~