The Story Behind “O Holy Night”

o holy night

The interesting thing about “O Holy Night” is that it was not created by anyone who was a genuine Christian. It began as a poem written by a Frenchman who was a commissionaire of wine in response to a request by his parish priest for a poem to be used at midnight mass on Christmas. Placide Cappeau used the text of Luke to imagine what it would have been like to be in the manger when Jesus was born. After he complete the poem Cappeau asked his friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, a Jew, to help him turn the poem into a song.

As Adolphe studied “Cantique de Noel,” he couldn’t help but note its overtly spiritual lyrics embracing the birth of a Savior. A man of Jewish ancestry, these words represented a holiday he didn’t celebrate and a man he did not view as the Son of God. Nevertheless, moved by more than friendship, Adams quickly and diligently went to work, attempting to marry an original score to Cappeau’s beautiful words. Adams’s finished work pleased both poet and priest. It was performed just three weeks later at a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Neither the wine commissionaire nor the composer was prepared for what happened next.

Initially, “Cantique de Noel” was wholeheartedly accepted by the church in France and the song quickly found its way into various Catholic Christmas services. But when Placide Cappeau walked away from the church and became a part of the socialist movement, and church leaders discovered that Adolphe Adams was a Jew, the song—which had quickly grown to be one of the most beloved Christmas songs in France—was suddenly and uniformly denounced by the church. The heads of the French Catholic church of the time deemed “Cantique de Noel” as unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and “total absence of the spirit of religion.” Yet even as the church tried to bury the Christmas song, the French people continued to sing it, and a decade later a reclusive American writer brought it to a whole new audience halfway around the world.

John Sullivan Dwight, an abolitionist, translated the song into English and brought it to the U.S. by publishing it in his magazine and multiple songbooks. For Dwight the song spoke to the issue of slavery and taught us that Christ came to liberate all men from the bondage of sin. Naturally, the song became popular in the North during the Civil War.

In France, the song remained in a condemned status until an American performed what some people thought was a miracle using the song.

Adams had been dead for many years and Cappeau and Dwight were old men when on Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden—a thirty-three-year-old university professor in Pittsburgh and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison—did something long thought impossible. Using a new type of generator, Fessenden spoke into a microphone and, for the first time in history, a man’s voice was broadcast over the airwaves: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed,” he began in a clear, strong voice, hoping he was reaching across the distances he supposed he would.

Shocked radio operators on ships and astonished wireless owners at newspapers sat slack-jawed as their normal, coded impulses, heard over tiny speakers, were interrupted by a professor reading from the gospel of Luke. To the few who caught this broadcast, it must have seemed like a miracle—hearing a voice somehow turned into electrical waves and transmitted to those far away. Some might have believed they were hearing the voice of an angel.

Fessenden was probably unaware of the sensation he was causing on ships and in offices; he couldn’t know that men and women were rushing to their wireless units to catch this Christmas Eve miracle. Yet after finishing his recitation of the birth of Christ, Fessenden picked up his violin and played “O Holy Night,” the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves. When the carol ended, so did the broadcast—but not before music had found a new medium that would take it around the world.

“O Holy Night” has gone on to become one of the most popular Christmas songs, with sales copies in the tens of millions. It took a very strange and circuitous religious journey from its inauspicious beginnings to its current status. Its lyrics do a good job of capturing the hope of the gospel. “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.”

 

 

Advertisements

What Is A Disciple Of Christ?

FollowMe1

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:26, 27

Jesus demands total commitment when He calls us to be His disciples. That means everything we do must please Him. It also means that everything we do has to be in obedience to His teachings. Our highest loyalty has to be to Him.

I need to point out that when Jesus says we must hate our families He is not talking about extreme animosity. The Greek word translated hate actually means to love less. We are to love our families, friends, and our very lives less than we love Jesus.

I never appreciated the significance of this commandment before I had begun to put my trust in The Lord in a practical way. I realized that my family was as much of an obstacle to serving The Lord as any temptation. It was eye-opening to realize that those who are believers in Christ, though they be well-intentioned, will lead you astray.

We see an example of this from Jesus’ own life in the gospel according to John:

Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judæa, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world. For neither did his brethren believe in him. Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come.

John 7:2-8

Another example comes from Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana, where He turned water into wine:

And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

John 2:3,4

Our loved ones often offer solutions derived from their own clever minds rather than encouraging us to be faithful. They assume, like the world, that there is a formula for solving problems or achieving goals and we need to simply follow it. Sometimes we have to give God a little help.

Jesus, however, calls us to wait on the Lord. We are supposed to follow His example of going places, doing works, and saying things only when God commands us. Jesus knew that the Father would provide everything He needed at the right time and entrusted everything to His care. He concerned Himself with being obedient to how God commands us to live through His word.

You probably have family and friends who are telling you what you need to do to get a job, to marry the right person, or to be happy. Unless it is their responsibility to provide you with it you need to take what worries you to God in prayer. If you need something then you should be harassing God about it every day.

highway_exit_signs

Under the Mosaic covenant the Jews had to bring animals sacrifices to offer God but as disciples of Christ we are the sacrifice, a living sacrifice offered up daily. I think that when Jesus said He testifies that the works of the world are evil He was doing so by the way He lived, completely surrendered to the will of God at every moment. The way of the world is to do what you think is right when you want to do it but Christ’s is to do what the Father wants when He wants us to do it. That’s what it takes to be His disciple.