Do You Hear What I Hear? The Songs of Christmas
December 2: O Holy Night by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877)
Scripture References: Luke 1:49-54 (Mary’s Song); Luke 1:68-75 (Zechariah’s Song)
These are the notes from a message offered Sunday, 2/2/18 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.
Have you ever played the Telephone Game? A person whispers a sentence into a person’s ear, who then whispers it into another person’s ear, and so on and so on until the last person whispers it into the first person’s ear. What usually happens? It’s nothing like what the first said. As things get passed along, they get lost in translation
In our Preschool Chapel, I asked the children what Christmas is about. They responded presents, Santa, lights, reindeer, cookies… It makes sense. This is the dominant story in our society. Radio is full of Santa Baby and Holly Jolly Christmas. TV is full of Frosty and Rudolf. This same story of sentimentality, gift giving, and you better be good, goes on for months. We start hearing it around Halloween.
Our understanding of Christmas gets lost in translation. In the midst of so many other Christmas stories, how do we continue to know and share the Christian point of view of Christmas?
We read the scriptures and sing the story, but it can even happen to beloved Christmas Carols.
O 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 appear’d 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 come the wise men from the 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 weaknesses no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly 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! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
How O Holy Night Came to Be
- In Roquemaure France at the end of 1843, the organ in the church of St. John the Baptist the Evangelist was renovated
- To celebrate the event, the parish priest asked Placide Cappeau, to write a Christmas poem which would be set to music by the renowned composer, Adolphe Adam
- Placide Cappeau was a local poet, lawyer, and wine merchant. He was a free thinker with no interest in Christianity or any other religion
Cappeau accepted the commission anyway. To prepare he read the gospels, especially the Christmas story (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1).
Did Cappeau find something secular and commercial, no
Did Cappeau find something saccharine sweet, no
Did Cappeau find something soft and sentimental, no
- Verse 1 O holy night! The stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
- Verse 2 Led by the light of faith serenely beaming, with glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
- Verse 3 Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us praise His holy name.
The sweet, soft and sentimental came with John Sullivan Dwight’s translation of Cappeau’s poem into English.
Cappeau read the Gospels, and this is what he found:
- Mary the mother of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, magnifying and rejoicing in God her Savior
- for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, (Luke 1:49-54)
- Zechariah the father of John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaiming
- Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1:68-75)
Cappeau found the Christmas story powerful and prophetic and that’s what he wrote.
Though he never placed his trust in Jesus, Cappeau had a chance to because he heard the real story. He saw the truth of Christmas-
- God coming in the flesh to deliver us, rescue us, and redeem us
- God dying and rising again to break the chains of sin, shame, prejudice, and isolation
- Especially powerful given O Holy Night was written in the age where many were fighting to end slavery
- Especially powerful since the song was banned for a time because Cappeau was a nonbeliever and the composer, Adolph Adam was Jewish
Don’t let Christmas get lost in translation.
Take time to read the scriptures, sing songs of faith, set up a nativity. Claim and share this story – the story of God’s truth, grace, and hope. This is why we sing and celebrate the coming of Christ. This is why we bow before him in reverence and faith
CLICK HERE for a pdf of the Christmas Song Devotional Readings.
The Christmas Story is full of singing. Mary sings. Zechariah sings. Simeon sings. The angels sing. Over the centuries we’ve continued to celebrate with songs of our own, songs born from the joy of Christ’s coming.
This holy season, to prepare our hearts again for the coming of Christ, we’ll reflect on the poetry of these meaningful songs. Some will be old friends. Others will be new. My prayer is that their beauty and power draw us closer to Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem, the Risen King. And that the grace of drawing near fulfills in us Christ’s power of new life.
Suggestions for Reflection on Each Song Lyric in the Christmas Devotion:
- Find a quiet place to sit. Take a couple of deep breaths.
- Read the song lyrics several times slowly, savoring the words.
- Ask yourself:
- What is the big idea?
- Why is it important?
- How does this truth connect with my life?
- Have a conversation with God about this truth.
- Invite God to use this truth to birth something new in you this holy season.
- Journal your reflections
- Draw, paint, or create some other kind of art based on your reflections
- Find a scripture or two which inspired the song or where brought to mind by the lyrics
- Sing or listen to the song
- Share the song or just the lyrics on social media or face to face
I look forward to hearing your comments. – Lisa <
O Holy Night reflections © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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