Saturday, December 24, 2016

Celebrating the Redeemer

And coming up at that very hour she [Anna] began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).
And his [John's] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days" (Luke 1:67-75 ESV).

Once upon a time in a public-school high school French class we sang "O Holy Night" with its original French text. Several years ago I remembered this as Amore and I rehearsed the English translation for a church Christmas concert.

The thing is, I couldn't remember a word of the French lyrics.  So the chase began. Two years ago, I shared my best attempt at translating those words into English and why they are more precious to me than the English interpretation we sing. 

Here is my literal translation, without attention to rhyme or singability, again:

Midnight! Christians, it is the solemn hour
When the man God descended unto us,
To erase original sin
And to stop His Father’s anger:
The whole world trembles with hope
At this night which gives us a Savior.
People, to your knees! Await* your deliverance,
Christmas! Christmas! Here is the Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas! Here is the Redeemer!

Let the burning light of our faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the Child,
As formerly, when a bright star
Led the chiefs of the East there.
The King of kings is born in a humble manger,
Powerful men of the day, proud of your grandeur—
It is from there [the manger] that a God preaches to your pride,
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has broken all shackles,
The earth is free and heaven is opened.
He [the Redeemer] sees a brother where was only a slave;
Love unites those whom iron had chained,
Who will tell him our gratitude?
It is for us all that He suffered and died:
People, stand! Sing your deliverance,
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!

(French text, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure; trans., C. Moore)

*alternately "Expect" or "Be ready for"

For this Christmas, coming as it is at the end of a tumultuous and burdened year, let's shift our focus to the concept of Redeemer, which appears in the chorus of each of the 3 verses of the French lyric.

In Greek, as is often preached, the word "redeem" originates in the marketplace and the idea of buying something or someone back. It gives us imagery of paying a price and setting free.

In the ancient Hebrew culture, a redeemer functioned in 4 desperate situations:
  • Loss of land (Lev. 25:23-34): If an Israelite became so poor that he lost his God-given, inherited portion in the land of promise, a relative with means to buy it back could do so and restore it to the original owner. The redeemer provided the remedy to bankruptcy.
  • Loss of life (Num. 35:9-29): If a murder occurred, the redeemer (or kinsman-redeemer) was the Mosaic Law's appointed instrument of capital punishment. The redeemer provided justice for violence against his close relative. (The law also provided a means of protection for the killer in cases of accidental or ambiguous death until a fair trial could be held.)
  • Loss of liberty (Lev. 25:47-55): If an Israelite became so poor that he had no alternative but to sell himself into slavery, the near relative could buy him back, The redeemer freed his enslaved kinsman.
  • Loss of legacy (Deut. 25:5-10 and entirety of Ruth): If an Israelite man died with a wife but no child, the widow was in dire straits. In the ancient near east, a godly son fulfilled the role of a modern 401K, Social Security, and Medicare package. He was his parents' sustenance and protection in their old age. As strange as it seems to 21st-century readers, the husband's brother would temporarily act as a husband to the widow in order to beget a child to care for her when she was advanced in years. The resulting child would be considered the dead husband's, not the brother-in-law's. The redeemer would prevent the dying out of a family line and raise up an heir for the dead father and son to sustain the widow.
The common threads? Hopelessness and close relationship. Someone who can help himself or herself has no need of a redeemer. The redemption principle only comes into play when there is no other option. A stranger with no personal, familial relationship has no qualification to be redeemer.

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of our ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer. We have no hope in ourselves to regain the inheritance of Eden, to judge wrongdoing righteously and effectively, to free ourselves from slavery to sin and death, or to make ourselves fruitful, let alone fruitful with abundant, lasting, good fruit. We are desperate and hopeless, in need of rescue. The rescuer has to be qualified, though; we need a rescuer who is a near kinsman.

Our Rescuer had to be fully human in order to redeem the children of men; He had to be God to be strong, rich, free, and life-giving, able to help the impoverished, enslaved, dead sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. Only Jesus fully qualifies. As the hymn says, "the man God descended unto us,/To erase original sin/And to stop His Father’s anger."

Are you in a desperate, hopeless situation today? Are you carrying more lament than joy in your heart as you walk into Christmas? Beloved, if you are a Christian, your desperation puts you in the perfect place to appreciate the arrival of your Redeemer. May your need and pain turn your heart toward Him in worship and praise today. 

 Christians, "Who will tell him our gratitude?
It is for us all that He suffered and died:
People, stand! Sing your deliverance,
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!"

P.S.  For the inquisitive, here are the best websites I found: story behind the song – English English lyrics as we sing them

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