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We Have Seen His Glory

Christmas Carol: O Magnum Mysterium

The Mysterious Nature of Christ's Birth

by Kevin Gandy

There are few things as magnificent and glorious as the Season of Advent. It's the splendor of time spent with family, the smell of baking cookies, a twinkling Christmas tree, Eggnog Lattes, and my personal favorite… evenings by the fireplace watching cheesy Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel. The Christmas season is not just a celebration of Christ’s birth, but rather, a celebration of “God in the flesh.” What makes Christianity so unique is that the supreme commander of the universe, the God who made the sky and sea, the birds and beasts, and you and me, "took on flesh and dwelt among men" (cf. John 1:14). No other religion in world history can boast about a God like that.

In as much as we celebrate the birth of our divine Lord and King, we also celebrate the birth of a man. But how can Christ be fully God and fully man? There is an old Christmas hymn called "O Magnum Mysterium," which is often used as a responsorial chant in the traditional advent liturgy. The first line states (in Latin), "O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum," which means "O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament." For centuries, the unprecedented birth of Christ as fully God and fully man has been called the "hypostatic union." To this end, the incarnated Christ can be regarded as nothing but deeply mysterious, greatly miraculous, albeit slightly disturbing. The writer of the chant understood this complexity and offers a theological nod towards the idea that Christ’s mysterious birth connects with His sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection.

The 20th century Reformed theologian Karl Barth said: "The incarnation is inconceivable, but it is not absurd, and it must not be explained as an absurdity" (Church Dogmatics, I.2, p. 160). I love that statement because it underscores the very richness of the advent season as both inherently mysterious and supernaturally miraculous. O Magnum Mysterium reminds us that the very first living things to see Baby Jesus were oxen, donkeys, Mary, and Joseph. The grand event of Christ’s birth shook the whole course of human history, of which, the entire world now spends at least two solid months preparing to celebrate. But remember, the birth of our Savior and King was first celebrated by a few smelly animals in their kennels and two young, poor, average, yet extremely blessed young parents. How absurd is that? According to Barth, not at all. Just another day in the life of Jesus.

So in all of the beauty, the richness, and the complexity of this Christmas season—as you scurry around in the busyness of life and gather with family and friends—remember not that Jesus was simply born. Remember the crazy, inconceivable, and downright weird reality that Christ was born to save you. Even your roommates when they annoy you. Even your friends when they flake. Even your professors when they give you too many assignments. Even your family when they drive you nuts. That’s not absurd at all. The glory of God is mysterious.

Click the play button above to hear "O Magnum Mysterium" performed by DBU University Chorale

Recording Engineer: Klair Julian | Written by: Morten Lauridsen

Kevin Gandy, Associate Pastor at Real Life Church of LA, is a current Ph.D. in Leadership Studies student with a concentration in Ministry Leadership at Dallas Baptist University.

The DBU University Chorale is an auditioned, touring choral ensemble featuring DBU music and music business students. In addition to tours in Europe, the Chorale has performed throughout the United States with notable concerts at Carnegie Hall, the National Cathedral, and The White House.

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