Holy. Set apart. Sanctified for God’s purposes. This is how I have always heard “holy” defined. That night when Jesus was born was truly a holy night. It was like no other night before it or after it. There in the sky was a miraculous star shining over the town of Bethlehem. An angel proclaimed to lowly shepherds, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you today in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Then angels burst forth from heaven shouting, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:10, 14) (NKJV). These words were proclamations that God had come to earth in the form of a tiny baby. The baby Jesus was sanctified for God’s purposes. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,” which means God is with us (Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14) (NIV). Truly it was the holiest night.
But what about the song, “O, Holy Night”? Some interesting facts* are that it was written as a poem by a man who was not a church-goer, at the request of the local French Catholic priest. Music was added to the poem by a Jewish man. “O, Holy Night” was the first song ever broadcast over the airwaves. An assistant to Thomas Edison read the words from Luke chapter 2, and then played this song on his violin, all to the wonder and astonishment of anyone who heard it. The words we sing now are changed somewhat from the original, but what remains the same is the song’s popularity and spiritual depth.
Reading about the history of its creation makes me even more appreciative of the song. God can use anyone! You, or I, do not have to be a perfect Christian person to do something amazing for God! That is exciting to me!
I have heard this song sung many times over the years. My favorite time to hear it is at a Christmas Eve service when, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, it still brings tears to my eyes and shivers to my body. It is beautiful as a solo, but I love when the congregation gets to sing it! When the music is soothing and peaceful, I feel calm. When it begins to crescendo, my spirit also soars! When we get to the powerful words of “Fall on your knees, O hear the angels voices, O night divine, O night when Christ was born…” I feel like we should all be on our knees worshiping the baby Jesus just as the shepherds did that night.
There are some words in this song that stirred up some controversy back in the 1800s, and maybe those issues are still a sticking point today. Did you notice the phrase, “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother, And in His name all oppression shall cease”? This did not sit well with some folks during that time. I find this stanza meaningful for several reasons. First and foremost is because Jesus loves everyone no matter their color or their role in life. It breaks His heart to see people in slavery or any kind of bondage. He does not want people to be in shackles whether it was in the first century, the 1600’s, or today. Yes, today. Slavery abounds. It is in different forms than the days of cotton or tobacco plantations, but it still exists. The United States is not exempt. These words are meant for freedom!
I think I connect with this section for several reasons. Here in Rochester, New York where I live, there were important happenings in regards to abolition in the 1800s. Frederick Douglass,** a former slave who became a strong abolitionist speaking and writing tirelessly to gain freedom and rights for other slaves and free persons of color, lived and worked in Rochester for part of his life. There is a New York State historical marker along the north end of the Genesee River, not too far from my home, that states that it was the final ‘stop’ of the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman’s house is about two hours from Rochester. The western NY area is the birthplace of the Free Methodist denomination. Benjamin Titus Roberts wanted everyone to be able to worship freely and equally no matter what color or socioeconomic status they were. He was an abolitionist as well. These and other matters led him and a group of people to start the Free Methodist denomination, the first church being in Albion, NY. The Free Methodist Church today continues to fight against slavery in the Set Free Movement. These parts of history that surround me physically and historically create greater meaning for this part of the song.
Part two of the above quotation is, “And in His name all oppression shall cease.” We know that oppression continues today. It will continue until we are in heaven. But—there is good news! Jesus, through His death and resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit, can break chains and oppression that we experience. People are set free from addictions, depression, and anxiety. Difficult situations can be remedied or improved. Relationships can be restored. Work places can become areas where people are empowered not degraded. Ethnic differences can be embraced rather than causing division. Yes, these types of oppression and more can be released with prayer, but they are also released with praise to Jesus, our Savior. “He knows our need, to our weakness He’s no stranger….let all within us praise His holy name….Christ is the Lord, O praise His name forever…”
O, what a holy night. Thank You Jesus for coming to be with us.
- Go to YouTube, Spotify, etc., and listen to several versions of this Christmas hymn. Really listen to the words. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElJ0fiD0lkc)
- Notice where in the song you feel moved. What is God saying to you? Is there a place within you that He wants to set free?
- What are some things you can do this year to focus on the holiness of the Christmas season?
Frederick Douglass statue near the sign signifying the last stop of the Underground Railroad. Rochester, NY
O Holy Night image: currentcatalog.com