Blogmas Day 11: “O Holy Night”

Tonight’s hymn is “O Holy Night.” Another classic Christmas carol, it was written by John S. Dwight. The music was composed by Adolphe Adam, who lived between 1803 and 1856.

Lyrics:

1 O holy night! the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the 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 soul 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, O holy night, O night divine!

2 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 is no stranger.
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!

3 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 pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!


I don’t think I’ve ever thought about the theology in “O Holy Night” before, but it is rich.

Verse 1 describes the birth of Jesus Christ and the era of hope that He represents. Jesus was born for the purpose of saving the world, like a super(natural)hero. When humans were deeply entrenched in and affected by sin, Jesus came to set us free from that influence. Our souls felt worth because we no longer needed to feel guilt and shame for the bad things we had done. Jesus’s arrival meant an outpouring of grace, rather than of condemnation. Even today, if (or, really, when) we do sin, this means that Jesus will never make us feel like failures, but His Spirit will speak to us and remind us that we are good–that we are righteous–because His Spirit is within us and because we have faith in Him. His grace is meant for us to freely approach Him for forgiveness, instead of hiding in fear and shame.

Verse 2 describes the “lowly” conditions of Jesus’s birth. Jesus, the child both fully human and fully divine, born to be a king and savior, was born in a smelly old manger–a barn with cows and sheeps and goats and–I wonder if there were also pigs there. (Seriously, imagine a practicing Jewish couple in the first century forced to give birth in a barn where there was manure and unclean animals. And then this baby is destined to rule the world?) It’s like a preview of Philippians 2:6-8: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (NRSV). 

According to these lyrics, among all of His other titles, Jesus was born to be our friend–someone who can empathize with our weaknesses, especially because He was born just like us (Hebrews 4:15, NRSV). He was born into poverty. He experienced all human limitations–including death and the descent into hell. (Yet, through His resurrection, He conquered it all on our behalf).

Finally, verse 3 looks ahead to the future. This is one aspect of the messianic vision. Because of the conditions of Jesus’s birth, He is able to empathize with and to deliver the enslaved and the oppressed. For us to live according to Jesus’s law of love means seeing everyone as a sibling. Hopefully, we don’t hate or detest our siblings. Even if our relationships may be challenging, we still strive to overcome those challenges because we value the relationship that we have. Similarly, all of the siblings of Christ (Jesus) all around the world, of different colors, ethnicities, and cultures, face many challenges, either from their position in society or because of history. Reconciliation–or just conciliation, for that matter–is difficult and costly, especially when we don’t trust each other. But the law of love requires that we love each other as family. If our example is someone who would later on in life sacrifice His own life and give up His own divine privileges for our sake, maybe we could contribute to the eradication of oppression by using our own privileges wisely for the sake of others.

Star of Bethlehem Nativity

2 thoughts on “Blogmas Day 11: “O Holy Night”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.