The Christmas song that always kills me, pulls me out of my age-old complacency and reminds me that this is an absolutely sacred moment in human history that we are celebrating here, is the Christmas carol “O Holy Night ”.
It’s one of those songs that you feel. Not only the music, the melody, the notes, especially that high C that makes you shiver, but you feel the song deep in your soul. You know it’s true and right.
The Christmas carol was originally written in French in 1843 by the poet Placide Cappeau and set to music by Adolphe Adam. The piece was written to celebrate the renovation of a church organ.
More than a decade later, the song was freely translated into English by Unitarian, Transcendentalist and Abolitionist Minister John Sullivan Dwight. The song became popular in the North, especially among abolitionists for the catchy lines of the third verse:
“He will break the chains, for the slave is our brother / And in his name all oppression will cease. “
The song brought poetry to the cause against slavery and persecution. We are reminded that the redemption of Jesus is not only universal but specific to the evil of each age.
One of the things that frustrates me about this song is that it is usually sung by a soloist in church. It’s understandable. Its wide vocal range makes it one of the most difficult Christmas carols to sing. But when it’s you singing, every line sounds like it was written just for you and Jesus.
“O holy night, the stars shine with a thousand lights, / It is the night of the birth of the dear Savior. “
With these lines, I feel like I was thrown into the streets of Bethlehem that night 2,000 years ago. I imagine narrow cobbled streets lined with old stone buildings. The stinging wind blows through the halls as I search for the place where the Holy Family awaits.
“For a long time the world lay in sin and languid error / Until it appeared and the soul felt its value. “
We don’t often think or sing about sin. I remember how lost I am without Jesus. And in the line, “Until he appears and the soul feels the value of it,” I not only want to sing, my voice crackling with emotion, but raise my hands in thanks and gratitude, praising God for every good thing he gave me.
We all want to know that we are worth something in this world. We want to remember his love for us.
“A shiver of hope rejoices the weary soul / For there is breaking out a new and glorious morning.”
And how my soul has been weary. As we come out of this pandemic, we are seeing hope again. This hope reminds us of the ultimate hope, the hope of the entire universe – with pandemics, sin, our separation from God – are all in the person of Jesus.
“Fall on your knees, oh hear the voices of angels!” / divine night. “
At these lines, I really want to fall on my knees imagining myself in front of Christ’s manager. This mystery, born from the Father before all ages, was born from an adolescent womb.
I remember the dark nights of the past two years, when I held my worry so close. I remember even darker nights throughout my life and the way Jesus speaks in these intimate places. How Jesus brings redemption, not only to my own life but to all of humanity.
This song is not just a Christmas carol, but a hymn of worship. In these words we remember how Jesus broke into the silence of a small town and all the time to come down to sinful humanity. As we sing it, we pray that it will burst into our lives now and redeem what we cannot.
Come Lord Jesus, come.
Gonzalez is a freelance writer. Its website is www.shemaiahgonzalez.com.