Long Lay the World in Sin and Error Pining

I’m not a musician, but even I know “O Holy Night” best for the impressively high notes on the scale the song reaches as it closes each verse. The story of the composition of this carol, however, is one laden with irony.

In 1847, a French parish priest wanted a poem written to commemorate the refurbishing of the church’s organ. The priest turned to a local wine merchant and poet to compose something for the occasion even though the poet had shown no real interest in religion. Nevertheless, he agreed, and on a trip from the town to Paris wrote the lyrics. He was so impressed with his work that he decided it must be set to music. The poet in turn then turned to a friend who was a well known composer of the day for the accompanying music. The composer was Jewish, but he also agreed to write the music even though it was for a holiday he never celebrated.

And thus came “O Holy Night,” a song with words and music, so far as we know, written by two non-Christians. Wondrously, though, we find not only stirringly beautiful music, but words of truth. In particular, we find these words:

Long lay the world
In sin and error pining,
Till He appeared
And the soul felt its worth.

What an ironic section considering the authorship, for here were two men in sin and error pining, and yet acknowledging at least with this song that the true worth of the soul only comes through the appearance of Jesus.

And isn’t this the state in which we all once found ourselves? Pining away, lost and dead in our sin, in our deepest and darkest and most silent moments acknowledging if only to ourselves the great despair of the human condition. And a big chunk of that despair comes, at least in our felt needs, of wondering if there truly is anyone in the universe that values us. That loves us, even when they know us deeply. So, in our sin and error, we pine on.

Until God proved His own love for us. Jesus – His incarnation, life, death and resurrection – is the historical validation of God’s love. It is through Jesus that God shows our worth to His great glory. This is one of the themes Paul took up in the first chapter of the book of Ephesians. In this chapter, Paul detailed for us as his readers the great riches we have in Christ.

But in particular, it’s striking to me that he uses the word “inheritance” twice. The first occurs in verse 14:

He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory.

Paul talks about the Holy Spirit as earnest money. If you’ve ever bought a house, you know that you have to put down some earnest money as part of the contract. The earnest money isn’t the full amount, but it’s the amount of money you have to forfeit if you back out of the account. To Paul, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence is like earnest money. It’s a deposit given to us by God that makes us sure He will uphold His end of the deal. It makes us sure that He will carry us onto completion, and we will receive our whole inheritance.

So what is that inheritance? We could say it’s heaven, eternity, mansions, streets of gold, no more tears, and all the other stuff heaven brings along with it. But ultimately, I think you have to say the inheritance is the thing which makes heaven so heavenly – our inheritance is God. It’s knowing Him fully and completely. That’s what makes heaven so good, and that is what’s waiting for us. But Paul wasn’t done.

If we skip down to verse 18, this is what we find:

I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength.

Do you see the difference? In this verse, “inheritance” isn’t talking about God or heaven; it’s talking about us. We are the inheritance. So who is inheriting us? Who is waiting for us? Who considers us so valuable? It’s God. We are God’s inheritance.

It’s unfathomable to think about what Christ did on the cross, that He bought something for us, but He also bought something for God. Jesus secured both our inheritances, and now God waits in expectation to fully inherit His.

We have that going for us. Not only do we have an inheritance stored up for us, but we are of such value to the Creator that we are stored up for Him to the praise of His glory. This is the worth of the soul. And this is the answer to our pining.

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