Christmas Carols and Blaise Pascal

nativity_stained glassI confess that words of many Advent songs and Christmas Carols move me at a deep level closer to the Lord. Recently in worship we sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The verses swept over me as both a cry from the heart and prayer. O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel. (Hymn No. 211, The United Methodist Hymnal, verse 1) The earliest Christians understood themselves as the new Israel and collectively we are captive. At breakfast I perused my way through the front section of my newspaper. The reader can well imagine the headlines and articles – wars and rumors of wars, crimes and corruption, political wrangling and tucked inside, a few heartwarming stories. Ransom is a strange term for us and yet it describes our need. To be ransomed is to have one’s freedom purchased. A contemporary example might be North Korea’s recent detainment and later release of an 85 year old American tourist, Merrill Newman. Mr. Newman was ransomed for a public propaganda apology. Theologically speaking we all need to be ransomed, released, from the sin, decay, destruction and death that engulfs so much of our lives both individually and collectively. When we sing “ransom captive Israel, that morns in lowly exile here,” it is both a personal and collective cry from my/our heart(s). The carol is an offering to the Lord. I find myself often overcome with some of the great Advent songs and Christmas carols in similar ways. In a recent blog, I reflected on the hymn “People Look East.” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” captures my spirit with tender prophetic, almost melancholic joy. “What Child is This” becomes a prayer. “Joy to the World” is a full throated act of praise. “Silent Night” expresses the depth of my soul. I have an album by the Contemporary Christian group Selah entitled “Rose of Bethlehem” that I play over and over because it so speaks to my heart! And, the list could go on and on. I find it fascinating that at this time of year the same could be said for many non- or nominal Christians. There is something about this music, these Christmas Carols, which captures our hearts longing. It calls me back to one of Blaise Pascal’s (a French mathematician and theologian of the 17th century) famous quotes: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.” Living in a post-modern age which seeks to move beyond reason in an attempt to get at greater truth(s), the carols give us a point of witness and sharing with non-Christians in a post Christendom era. Reason is not rejected but surmounted by a higher sense of spiritual hunger. Through the carols and there powerful words, God speaks to our age. And, we contemporary Christians are invited to a gracious sharing of the “heart’s reason.” Both the music and the words of witness which stand alongside the tunes call us to prayer, praise and sharing. They beckon for an offering of the “hearts reason which reason knows not.”