O Holy Night

Hope for a Weary World

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:34-35

As soon as I hear the arpeggiated triplets, I know what’s coming—my favorite Christmas song, “O Holy Night.” Originally a French poem written by Placide Cappeau, the song is based on Luke 1:26-35.* Even when I didn’t understand what all the lyrics meant, I loved the song’s dramatic melody and colorful images: brightly shining stars, angelic voices, a baby in an odd crib, and wise men guided from the Orient by a unique star.

As I look at the song now, I’m struck by the words holy and divine, especially the contrasts Cappeau paired with these two ideas. The night was holy, yet the world was “in sin and error pining till He [the dear Savior] appeared.” But with His birth came hope for the weary world, and a dark night became a “new and glorious morn.”

Mary, the baby’s mother, had been told about the Son she would bear. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David,” the angel had said (Luke 1:32-33).  This baby would be the Christ, the Lord, the Messiah promised to David who would be king forever (2 Samuel 7:12-13). He would be human, descended from David and born of Mary, but He was also divine—Mary would conceive by the Holy Spirit’s coming upon her. The baby’s father was the Most High God, not Joseph (Luke 1:34-35).

Holy and divine, He is the King of Kings, yet He was placed in a “lowly manger,” an animal’s feeding trough. He is our king, and yet He is also our friend who knows our needs and weaknesses. He teaches us according to His law of love (John 15:9-10) and His gospel of peace (John 14:27 and 16:33). He broke the chains of slavery and overcame oppression (Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18).

This Christmas, will you respond as Cappeau asked listeners and singers to respond to his song? Will you fall on your knees as you behold your king and proclaim His power and glory evermore?

DIG DEEPER:

Many traditional crèches place the magi at the manger scene. These astrologers from the Orient may have started their long journey on this night when they first saw the star, but when did they arrive and where according to Matthew 2:1-12? Whose presence at the birth of Christ did Cappeau fail to mention in his poem (Luke 2:1-20)?

What did the angels say about the baby as recorded in Luke 2:10-11? What two emotions are contrasted?

Read Romans 8:19-23. When will all creation stop “pining” according to this passage? See also Isaiah 11:6-9 and Revelation 21:1-5.

For the history of the song, see www.crosswalk.com/church/worship/waht-are-we-singing-o-holy-night 11596463.html.

Nancy J. Baker

*Poem set to music by Adolphe Adam, and translated from French by John S. Dwight. For lyrics, go to http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/h/oholynit.htm

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