MP Carols: O Holy Night
‘O Holy Night’, was written by a French wine merchant who read Luke Chapter 2 and imagined himself witnessing Christ’s birth. The song took the French Catholic church by storm until the ‘secular’ creation of the song was discovered and it was banned. But God had bigger plans.
On Christmas day in the 1871 Franco-Prussian war, a French soldier stood up amid gunfire and sang ‘O Holy Night’. A German soldier emerged from hiding to join in and this exchange inspired a ceasefire in honour of Christmas.
Meanwhile, God brought the song to an American writer who translated the song into English. On Christmas eve in 1906, a university professor created the first broadcast radio. He had no idea if anyone was listening but began to read Luke Chapter 2, before taking his violin and singing ‘O Holy Night’.
The hymn takes us through the life and purpose of Jesus Christ: the two times Jesus comes to earth and the glorious symmetry of both these occurrences when heaven meets earth.
Listen as you read: A real 90s classic for you this time!
‘Long lay the world in sin and error, pining’ for a rescuer to conquer death and free us from the chains of sin. On that holy night, our dear Saviour was born and ‘the soul felt its worth’. A world that had suffered under the reign of sin with only the promise of hope to cling to, could now rejoice that God had come through on His promise.
‘For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn’. This line makes me think of two mornings - That first day after Jesus’ birth, as Mary held Jesus in her arms, having no idea of the pain her son would endure to fulfil the glorious task for which he came. And secondly, the first morning in heaven. When the story is finally complete and we are welcomed home.
It can seem like this day is a long way off, like we don’t really meet Jesus until then. But he has drawn near to us. ‘He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger’ - the same Lord who came into the earth to save all people took the time to get to know you. What you worry about, what makes you ashamed, what you desire most.
‘In all our trials, born to be our friend. Behold your King! Before him lowly bend’ - It’s a wonderful concept that we can praise our King and ask our friend for help in the same breath. The description of Jesus as the loving friend of us, lowly and sinful as we are, should cause us to bow before the King who can be described in that way.
The third verse carries such a strong message of emancipation. The original lyrics say: ‘He sees a brother where there was only a slave. Love unites those that iron had chained.’ Jesus looked on the earth and saw his own family. This conjures the beautiful image of the light shining into the cell, chains falling loose and the door being flung open (Acts 16:26-27).
‘And in his name all oppression shall cease’. I fear this Christmas may carry a shadow of sorrow with it. After all that has happened in the last 12 months, there will be thousands of families across our world for whom this Christmas will be a bitterly painful time. There is such a need for us to spread this hope: ‘Christ is the Lord’ and this carol commands us to respond.
‘Fall on your knees’ in awe of this glorious Saviour who appeared to a broken world.
‘Behold your King’, the one who descended into death so that we may have free life.
‘His power and glory ever more proclaim.’
I pray that this carol will be a great encouragement to you this Christmas, in whatever battles you are fighting. And I pray that God will use these words to arouse in you a heart that seeks to ever more glorify His name.
Abby is from Cambridge and is currently in her final year of Psychology at Sheffield University. She became a Christian at 19 and has loved growing more in her faith at uni. Abby would love to travel the world forever and somehow tie that into clinical psychology and biblical counselling!