O Holy Night (Advent 17-2014)

Continuing our theme of the holy night (with holiness meaning set apart) today’s selection in Carol Me, Christmas (2014 Advent Devotional Series) is O Holy Night, known also as Cantique de Noël.  The words in the original French poem by Placide Cappeau would be literally translated as:

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,

When God as man descended unto us

To erase the stain of original sin

And to end the wrath of His Father.

The entire world thrills with hope

On this night that gives it a Saviour.

People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.

Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,

Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

May the ardent light of our Faith

Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,

As in ancient times a brilliant star

Guided the Oriental kings there.

The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;

O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,

It is to your pride that God preaches.

Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has broken every bond:

The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.

He sees a brother where there was only a slave,

Love unites those that iron had chained.

Who will tell Him of our gratitude

For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.

People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,

Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,

Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

These lyrics are beautiful and yet ironic.  Here’s why:  Cappeau was invited by a parish priest in Roquemaure to write a poem because Cappeau was a home town favorite as an occasional poet and wine merchant.  You’d never know given the beauty of the poem that Cappeau was both anticlerical and an atheist according to published reports.  He was also an abolitionist and there is a hint in verse 3 of his passion in that area.

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.

To add further intrigue, the musical composer, Adolphe Adam, was kind of a carousing sort and best remembered for Giselle (a ballet dating to 1841).  He was considered a rogue because of his lifestyle and his compositions for light and comedic opera.  Consequently, many churches shunned this carol as inappropriate due to Adam’s wild living.  Nevertheless, the carol premiered in Roquemaure in 1847.

Oh, but we’re not done.  The most common translation into English was done by John Sullivan Dwight who was another Unitarian pastor with the resulting lyrics talking about Jesus as the Christ.  The Unitarians do not believe that Jesus is God so either Dwight did a translation without believing a word of it, or maybe he didn’t adhere closely to Unitarian teachings.

Here is his translation.

O holy night!

 The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world 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 divine, O night,

O night Divine.


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 come 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,

 our weakness is no stranger,

Behold your King!

Before Him lowly bend!

Behold your King,

Before Him lowly bend!


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 power and glory evermore proclaim

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

This brings us to a really important point for us today.  What makes music sacred?  Is it the lyrics?  Is it the tune?  Is it the meter or beat of the music?  Must the people writing it be Christians?  What kind of litmus test must we place upon their lives in order to judge whether they’re sufficiently Christian in their practice as well as in their theology?  Does the spirit of the music still speak, just differently for those who have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them?

1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

When I was in seminary, we were required to do a cross-cultural field education experience and I begged to break with traditional field eds and to do my 13 week cross-cultural experience by attending Shabbat services at our local Reform Jewish synagogue.  It was a real highlight of my time at seminary.  The rabbi’s wife, who was also Jewish, taught the New Testament at a local seminary that was more liberal than where I was being educated.  I remember talking with the rabbi and asking him,

How is that possible?

He said she could teach what the words on a page say without believing a word of its veracity in her life.  As I began to ponder that, I figured it’s the flip side of my telling you what Unitarians believe without agreeing with them.

o holy night1All of this to say that this hymn might not be in many hymnals and the rationale may be varied by the hymnbook editors, but it’s still a lovely poem.  It does point to holiness, to the Christ as the Kings of Kings and of His Lordship.  To His birth as what we celebrate at Christmas.  It’s a night Divine, a holy night.  Sure, it’s got the wise men coming to the manger, but it’s not the only hymn that did that and those are hymns that we include without a second thought.

As you listen to Sam Tsui on piano accompanied by Yasmeen Al-Mazeedi  on violin, reflect upon our Thought Focus for today and reread the two sets of lyrics above.

Thought Focus for Today: 

What makes a carol sufficiently religious for Christmas?


Carol Me, Christmas (2014 Advent Devotional Series) began November 30th.  By way of reminder, if you haven’t signed up yet, you can receive these devotional studies in your email throughout Advent 2014 by entering your email address on the SeminaryGal.com home page in the space provided in the sidebar.  Or “Like” the SeminaryGal Facebook page to access them there.  If you like these devotionals, I’d really appreciate your letting others know so I can continue to spread the Good News far and wide.  Blessings to you, in Christ always, Barbara <><

Categories Articles and Devotionals, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on December 16, 2014

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