A Song of Hope

One of the favorite aspects of Christmas time is the songs. Some listen to Christmas music all year long, or early in the season. Others prefer to only listen to Christmas music during the specific season. Regardless of your listening preference, song lyrics have a tremendous potential to shape young and old with timeless truth.

The song, “O Holy Night” is my favorite Christmas carol. The melody and lyrics are transcending and seem to transport the audience into another world. Further, the background story of the song offers even greater fascination.

In 1843, a parish priest in France requested the services of local and popular poet to write a song for their Christmas services. Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was likely surprised at the request since he was not a church attender or Christian. However, Roquemaure honored the request and used the Gospel of Luke as his guide in writing lyrics about the birth of Jesus. After completion, he asked one of his friends, Adolphe Charles Adams for his services to add the music. Ironically, while Adams was a well-known classical musician who worked with operas and ballets all over the world, he too was not a Christian, but in fact Jewish. Nonetheless, the lyrics and melody were wed together, and the song was affirmed by the local church, and quickly adopted by other churches.

As the song grew in popularity, Catholic church officials became more aware of the song’s origin with non-Christian authors, and they sought to ban the song. We almost lost the song “O Holy Night!” Thankfully, the song would not stay banned or buried, and received new life a decade later with American writer John Sullivan Dwight. Dwight was a minister and abolitionist, and translated the song from French to English. Dwight’s translation of the lyrics resonated with the social setting of the time:

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Truly He taught us to love one another;
 His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

One can see how this refrain was revolutionary moving toward the end of the Civil War. History tells us the song was used in other instances. A temporary Christmas Eve (1871) truce occurred during the Franco-Prussian War occurred when a French soldier in the trenches loudly sang the song. The Germans responded with their own carol, and for a brief moment there was peace. Also, it is believed that this song was the first to be transmitted over live radio broadcast in December 1906. Reginald Fessenden, a university professor and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison, used a new type of generator and microphone to broadcast over airwaves. He read from Luke 2, and then played his violin and sang “O Holy Night.” Those who caught the transmission, largely sailors with radio, were shocked as music had found a new medium that would spread across the world.

In all, the lyrics of “O Holy Night” give an inspiring picture of our Savior’s birth and an insightful portrayal of the gospel’s implications. The shackles of sin are prevalent for every person. The birth of Christ is the beginning of liberation for all creation. While creation groans and humanity yearns for redemption of a world of suffering, the resurrection of Jesus offers hope. The scope of the gospel reminds us change is possible. In Christ, God frees us from slavery to adoption and co-heirs with Christ; and He is not ashamed to call us brother (cf Rom 8:15-17; Heb 2:11; Phm 1:16). Chains are broken, eyes are opened, death is defeated, and sin is no longer our master. Further, the gospel provides the context for how we relate to others.

In Christ, we are reborn into a family where “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). While many may know “O Holy Night” by heart, we must reflect the heart of the song and our Savior. Christmas truth teaches us to love those who are different and imperfect because that’s what God did by sending Jesus.  

Unfortunately, we have not experienced the complete cessation of oppression. Yet, we must not lose sight of hope. The birth of Christ promises peace and the return of Christ will fulfill it. This is the needed hope for our neighborhoods and nations today. “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.” Our divided world needs a united church that holds to the imago dei, best expressed for us through the incarnation. May “sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we; let all within us praise His holy name.”

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Chorus
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend;

Chorus
He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King! before him bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!

Chorus

Christ is the Lord, then ever! ever praise we!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!

O Holy Night lyrics

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