Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Love's Pure Light

Sometimes I sing songs without giving the lyrics much thought. This is especially true of familiar songs. I have always loved the Christmas lullaby Silent Night, but I was long into my adult years before I paid close enough attention to understand the third verse.

Most people in North America can sing the first verse of Silent Night and most are familiar with the second and third verses. I have sung these lines countless times throughout my life. From the time I was old enough to do so, I sang verse three like this:
“Silent Night! Holy Night!
Son of God loves pure light….”
As a child, I pictured in my mind’s eye the baby Jesus in a manger peacefully enjoying pure light from heaven shining down on him. As I matured, I added to this the concept of the Savior loving pure light, as in loving intelligence and truth.

Then one day I actually read the third verse of Silent Night in a choir arrangement I was singing. It read this way:
“Silent Night! Holy Night!
Son of God, love’s pure light….”
I did a double take. The comma after the term “Son of God” and the apostrophe in the word “love’s” seemed out of place. Surely this was a printer’s error. I quickly opened my hymnbook and read the exact same phrase.

It suddenly dawned on me that I had always understood the third verse incorrectly. While the Son of God certainly loves pure light, the phrase really means that Jesus Christ IS the pure light of love. It is a description of his identity rather than a report of his enjoyments.

There it was, right before my eyes in language simple enough for a third grader to understand. Yet I didn’t get it for most of my life.

As I comprehended the actual meaning of this phrase, the next phrase made more sense to me. It had always seemed kind of disjointed — filler added in to make the meter and rhyme work. Now I understood that radiant beams come from Jesus’ holy face because he is the source of the light of love.

I also understood that the love mentioned is Christ’s atonement — his redeeming grace. Having just been born, it would be years before he carried out his atonement. But his miraculous birth was certainly the dawn that would culminate in the accomplishment of his redeeming grace.

These simple and beautiful rhythmic lines accompanied by an even simpler lovely melody suddenly had an impact on me that I had somehow missed up to that point in my life.

“Silent Night! Holy Night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth;
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.”
Although I have always cherished the hymn Silent Night, I now love it even more because I finally comprehend its actual meaning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's funny. I can't remember ever readying the words like you originally did. I have always read it as a description or title for the Savior.

This is also a great song because of the story the lead up to it's writing. I won't spoil it by botching a retelling of the story. However, Look it up if you don't already know it.