Why we rejoice when autistic girl sings ‘Hallelujah’

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Kaylee Rodgers is autistic. When she began school, she wouldn’t talk or read in class. Now a video of her singing the lead in Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has gone viral. It’s impossible to hear her sing about Jesus’ birth and not be moved by her gifts and God’s grace.

Another video making headlines is the reunion of Matt and Bo Farrell. Matt plays point guard for Notre Dame; Bo serves with the Army in Afghanistan. After last Monday’s game, the stadium displayed a video message from Bo to his little brother. Then Bo walked onto the court, shocking Matt.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey and his staff had been planning the reunion since Bo was deployed in May. Matt told reporters, “We don’t ask for much for Christmas, so this is the best present I’ve ever gotten.”

It is impossible to watch either video without being moved deeply. Why? And why are such messages especially welcome at Christmas?

There’s something in us that recoils at the conflict between the tragedies of our day and the birth of the Prince of Peace. We watch the manhunt for the Berlin truck terrorist and grieve for the victims of the Mexico City explosion. We are shocked to learn that human traffickers are trapping more children into forced labor than ever. As we read the news, we know instinctively that this world is not the way it was meant to be. We were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27), and we long to be restored to what God created us to be.

Justin Martyr observed that there are “seeds of truth” implanted by God in each person. That’s why every culture known to history has worshiped God or the gods in some way. Even Star Wars followers who tried unsuccessfully to have Jediism certified as a religion point to a reality beyond themselves.

We rejoice when an autistic girl sings or separated brothers are united. In them we sense a part of ourselves being made whole. But only a part. When the video is over, the world comes rushing back like the tide, crashing into our sandy souls and obliterating the serenity we felt.

Now we are left with a choice.

We can search for more inspirational videos to help us escape the unrelenting drumbeat of calamity. We can bemoan the fallenness of our world and our lives. Or we can find within us a Power greater than the pain around us.

In his classic Return of the Prodigal, Henri Nouwen admits his “resistance to living a joyful life.” He explains: “Somehow I have become accustomed to living with sadness, and so have lost the eyes to see the joy and the ears to hear the gladness that belongs to God and which is to be found in the hidden corners of the world.” Father Nouwen speaks for many of us. We are so used to bad news that we can stop looking for good news.

A dear friend recently noted that the expression “God is good” (Psalm 34:8) reminds us that wherever there is good, we find God. The Bible tells us that “every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Nothing in our changing world affects the unchanging character of God. If he is good, he is always good. And he is at work wherever good is at work.

So be inspired (which literally means “to be breathed into by the Spirit of God”) by Kaylee Rodgers and the Farrell brothers. Then ask God’s Spirit to show you the good he brings into your life today. Ask him to use you for good wherever he will. And the Lord who became flesh at Christmas will become flesh again in you (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Is there a greater privilege than being the Bethlehem of God?