Christ Was Born For This!

Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!
[Good Christian Friends, Rejoice; ELW 288, LBW 55]

Oddly, this refrain from a sprightly medieval Christmas hymn came to mind in mid-November as I watched, through tear-blurred eyes, the press conference of Ed and Paula Kassig, the parents of Peter Abdul-Rahman Kassig, after they learned of his brutal murder by ISIS. The press conference was held in the narthex of the family’s United Methodist church in Indianapolis.
“Our hearts are battered,” Paula said, “but they will mend. The world is broken, but it will be healed in the end. And good will prevail as the one God of many names will prevail.”
“Please,” Ed asked, “allow our family the time and privacy to mourn, to cry – and yes, to forgive – and begin to heal.”
Battered…will mend. Broken…will be healed. Allow us the time…to forgive. God will prevail.
Unexpectedly, oddly, my heart began to sing, quietly, slowly, barely audible in my own consciousness: Christ was born for this. Christ was born for this.
One commentator on this hymn has said that its “catchy melody bounces along in a triple rhythm that is easily sung and danced.” There was neither singing nor dancing when it came to my mind. It was more like the voices of the Kassigs, weary, broken, trusting, hopeful: Christ was born for this, even this, especially this. Christ will not let this deep brokenness, this savage evil, this unbearable pain have the last word. It will take time, but we will be healed, we will forgive; the world will mend, God will prevail. Christ was born for this.
One of the unusual traits this hymn has picked up as it has echoed its way to us from the 14th century is a brief, strange mid-verse change in meter. In some versions (preserved, for example, in some United Methodist hymnals), the phrase “News! News!” is inserted at then end of the second line in each verse. So, verse two of the hymn reads like this:

Good Christian friends, rejoice with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss: News! News!
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door…

This odd interruption reminds me of a newsboy standing on an old, cold December street corner holding up the special edition newspaper just released, beckoning to all who pass by, “News! News!” Perhaps a contemporary image of this might be those intrusive pop-ups that appear on our computer screens to let us know that an important email message or news report has arrived and demands our attention.
As we move through the challenges of our days, Christmas interrupts our rhythm, breaks our stride, and disrupts the doldrums of our days with the cry: News! News! Christ was born for this!
The tinsel, bright lights, and beautiful wrappings of this season cry out, too, with the good news that all our struggles, pain, anguish, doubts, fears, and most desperate aching for peace and joy, forgiveness and new life find their home in the manger, in the child of Bethlehem who enters deeply into this troubled world to break its stride by rising from the tomb.
I can hardly wait to sing this wonderful hymn this Christmastide. Thanks to the Kassigs, it might even move me to dance (or at least to sway a bit; I am Scandinavian, after all), resting the world and my own travails in the sure and certain promises that come wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Christ was born for this!

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Table Scraps by William O. Gafkjen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.