O Holy Night

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Today begins a short series of blogs on Christmas carols. Short, since as you can see, I’m only just beginning now. I LOVE carols (I am the obnoxious co-worker that doesn’t mind playing them eight hours a day beginning in late November) but my reason for these posts is that I’ve found, often hidden beneath the jolly arrangements and melodies, are some of the most powerful statements about Christ and His love for mankind. My hope is that what we often miss while singing, will be noticed in reading.

Oh Holy Night

O holy night,

the stars are brightly shining;

It is the night of

our dear Savior’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.

Fall on your knees,

O hear the angel voices!

O night divine,

O night when Christ was born!

O night divine, O 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 came the wise men

from Orient land.

The King of Kings lay thus

in lowly manger,

In all our trials

born to be our Friend!

He knows our need,

To our weakness no stranger;

Behold your King!

Before the 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!

Christ is the Lord,

Oh praise His name forever,

His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim

His pow’r and glory

evermore proclaim.

Isn’t it incredible? In addition to beautiful lyrics, the song has an inspiring story of its own. “Oh Holy Night” or “Cantique de Noel” was a french poem written by a man named Placide Cappeau in 1847. Using the gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau sought to capture what it would’ve been like to be at the birth of Christ. He wasn’t a man of faith, so to speak, but when he was only eight, he and a friend were playing with a gun when it went off, shooting him in the hand. The doctors were unable to save Placide’s hand and he lived his childhood and adult life as an amputee. I can’t help but read the lines, “He knows our need, to our weakness no stranger” and wonder what it meant to him, personally.

The song was later translated into English in 1855 by John Sullivan Dwight, a pastor from Massachusetts. He was an abolitionist and loved the lines, “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.” The song spread like wildfire in the North during the Civil War.

91127592431626594_ENz6JM6v_c[1]On Christmas Eve 1906, using a new type of generator, a young Canadian professor named Reginald Fessenden spoke into a microphone and a man’s voice was broadcast over the airwaves for the first time in history. The very first words ever heard were from the gospel of Luke, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus…” Men and women as far South as Norfolk, Virginia were in shock, having never heard anything like it before. When he finished reading the Christmas story, Reginald picked up his violin and played, “O Holy Night” making it the first song to ever be played on the radio. The program was transmitted using naval ships on New Year’s Eve and heard as far away as the Caribbean.

As exciting and fun as the holidays can be, I’ve noticed the season has a way of heightening our awareness over the things we have, or things we lack. Depending on our circumstances, it can be a joyus time of gratitude, or a time of sadness for what is missing. Some smile as they look around a table full of loved ones, while others can’t help but notice the empty chairs left by those who are absent. None of us can read the news without seeing how this Christmas will be painful for so many all over the world. I imagine it’s hard to see the lights and hear the music without feeling a bit resentful over the call to “be of good cheer.”

I love “O Holy Night” because it reminds me that Christmas isn’t first and foremost a festive party; it’s the moment God came to earth because we needed Him. Christmas is a holiday for the needy. It’s for the desperate, the lonely, the lost. As the song says, the earth was dark, pining, and weary until Jesus came. For the first time, in what are some of the most compelling and meaningful words ever written, “the soul felt it’s worth.”

Whether you are celebrating the end of a wonderful year, and I hope you are, or a particularly difficult one, I pray the message of this carol fills you with hope and peace.

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14 responses to “O Holy Night”

  1. Mike says:

    Your words on this carol will make this hymn of faith be more meaningful and significant each time i hear it sung or played! Many thanks!!

  2. Alecia says:

    Rich theology born out of suffering. Hmmm…

  3. Mary Gomes ( amber's mom) says:

    Cindy, I love the way you write. You’re humorous, insightful and a bit sarcastic… The perfect mix. I so enjoy reading your blog but this one was especially meaningful. Thank you for not only the interesting history but for breaking down such a powerful yet pure and gentle song. For the first time this Christmas season, my heart felt the meaning of Christmas. Thank you and Merry Merry Christmas to you.

    • Hi Mary!! Thank you so, so much for your kind and encouraging words! I needed them this morning! I’m so happy to hear you are enjoying the blog and don’t mind the sarcasm….It has had a history of getting me into trouble at times:)
      It meant so much to hear that my blog helped you experience Christmas this year. That makes this whole endeavor worth it! Hope you, your kids, and your adorable grandkids have a wonderful Christmas!!!

  4. Alice Johnson says:

    Thanks for the reminder that we don’t have to have all the trappings, people, or “merry” to celebrate Christmas- only Christ!

  5. wow- “the soul felt it’s worth” really is one of the best lines ever written. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis saying “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” If only we could really grasp this concept in our every day lives!! Thanks for pointing out the true beauty of this Christmas song. The recording you posted made me cry! So pretty. It means so much. <3

  6. Courtney says:

    I have always loved this song. It is my favorite Christmas carol! I tear up when I really think about how beautiful and true the words are. Thank you for writing about it!

  7. Jason says:

    “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” These words make my top 5 list of phrases in a Christmas song. Our son, Jack, sang them with his class yesterday and Em (his mom) and I were crying as the 2nd graders serenaded us. The song is just so darn true!

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