One of my guilty pleasures is satellite radio, and in this holy season it ensures that I do not have to listen to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and “The Christmas Song” ad nauseum.
I can actually listen to some sacred music, which I did on a road trip to Oklahoma to see the Marshall clan.
A lilting soprano voice sang “O Holy Night,” and I heard these words as if for the first time: “Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”
Is this lyric suggesting that the coming of Christ is not simply about sinful humanity but is actually telling us something new about the dignity of being a human whose image God now bears?
To raise this question is to wade into an ancient theological conundrum.
One medieval philosophical theologian, Duns Scotus, went so far as to say that the incarnation would have occurred even without the pretext of the biblical fall; God would have come as one of us anyway just so as to be near us.
It was a bold statement then – and now. Fortunately, we can hold the two ideas together.
The coming of God in Jesus teaches us how God intends humanity to live. Indeed, each of the key characters in the tableau of the nativity has something to teach us.
Elizabeth and Zechariah remind us of lifetime faithful service; John the Baptist understands his preparatory role; Mary trusts that God is with her; Joseph is willing to take a risk; shepherds pay attention; and, Simeon and Anna kept believing in the consolation of Israel. Finally, magi seek truth.
I can imagine their souls felt new worth because of God’s habitation in their midst.
Advent and Christmastide can help persons rekindle a sense of worth, but consumerism conspires to distract us from deeper contemplation of God’s great love for humanity.
Pelted with commercials, online ads and enticing sales, we seek to secure our relationships through overspending, overeating and overscheduling our days.
How about these suggestions for our souls – and the souls of others?
- Light a candle in a dark room and quietly observe how its flame brings a glow to everything.
- Recover a childhood memory of a special Christmas.
- Read a Christmas story to a child without being asked.
- Hold a newborn.
- Listen to some majestic Christmas music.
- Visit an elderly friend.
- Write a letter to express gratitude to a mentor.
- Send an unexpected gift to a lonely person.
Parker Palmer suggests souls are rather shy, but souls sense their worth when they are loved.
God’s presence with us tells us of our worth, and we can offer such grace to others also.
Molly T. Marshall is the retired president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) in Shawnee, Kansas.