The quality of mercy is not strained…

Argh, missed Tolkien’s birthday yesterday. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of other chances to pay tribute to the dear Professor–he is, after all, one of my all-time favorite authors and one of the chief reasons I went to grad school.

I was puzzling this evening over what to write about for today’s post and thought back to something I’d meant to say about “Maria Durch Ein’ Dornwald Ging.” It’s a lovely melody and a classic German carol, but Die Prinzen, being (from what I can tell) staunch Lutherans to a man, elected not to sing the Marian lyrics but just the refrains in each verse. Here’s the video again, but when you play it this time, ignore the words on the screen and just listen to what Die Prinzen are singing:


Did you notice what happened? Aside from “Jesus und Maria,” what’s left?
Kyrie eleison–“Lord, have mercy on us.”
I have no way of knowing whether the band made that choice deliberately or not, but it is interesting that the song turns from a cute little legend about Mary carrying Jesus through a barren forest of thorns and watching it bloom into a prayer for mercy. One can view the story as an allegory for the effects of the redemption Jesus works in our barren hearts when we turn to Him for salvation, of course, but this version makes me think of poor blind Bartimaeus crying out as soon as he heard that Jesus was near–Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
(Isn’t it intriguing, those of you who know Plato, that the son of Timaeus was born blind and received his sight from the Creator of All and the Light of the World? I can’t assume that’s a coincidence!)
See, it’s not as if people didn’t pray for mercy before Jesus’ birth or as if God didn’t answer those prayers. But from the perspective of humans within time, His mercy couldn’t have its fullest effect until Jesus came to give His life in the greatest act of both mercy and grace the world has ever known. In His earthly ministry, too, we see Him extending mercy to people like Bartimaeus through healing, teaching, rebuking, and encouraging. I don’t know in what ways Bartimaeus would have experienced God’s mercy had he lived a generation earlier, but it likely wouldn’t have been as immediate as hearing “Go, your faith has healed you” and instantly being able to see.
Mercy’s one of the many, many reasons Jesus chose–without ceasing to be God–to be born as a human, grow up as a human, live a human adult life, and spend three years traveling and teaching before His death. He could theoretically have just turned up out of nowhere, but He wanted not only to share our experiences but also to be approachable. He knows what it’s like to live as “this quintessence of dust” (to borrow Hamlet’s phrase), and so He can have mercy on us in ways one couldn’t expect from a god who’s not “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And we can be confident that our prayers for mercy will be heard because we’re praying to Someone Who gets it.
And that is why we have Christmas. 🙂

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