What would Christmas be without music? Can you imagine going through the holiday with no songs of celebration over Christ’s birth? No carolers. No cantatas. No child renditions of familiar classics. Music is a crucial part of our rejoicing and remembering at this time of year. At one point in history, the French Catholic church did their best to bury, not all music but one particularly beloved Christmas tune, O Holy Night. They denounced the song for its lack of musical taste and deemed it totally “absent of the spirit of religion.” I couldn’t help but scratch my head when I read that! I thought, “Are you sure that we’re talking about the same song!?” I went to the literal translation of the French poem to English just to see if I was missing something and sure enough, the same truth was all there if not even more so in some places. Sadly, the issue had more to do with the hearts of the officials in charge than anything else. Their decision was fueled by pride and Anti-Semitism. They were displeased with the writer and hated the fact that the music was composed by a Jewish man. Their conclusion was to shut it out completely but thankfully, they couldn’t. The French continued to sing even when the religious officials wouldn’t. Why? Because Christ’s coming is reason to sing! We celebrate through song!
When you consider the lyrics, it is no wonder why the song O Holy Night has prevailed. It comes out of conviction and celebration of what Christ’s birth means for the world. When the French poet, Placide Cappeau, was asked to write the original (“Cantique de Noel”) he took the book of Luke and did his best to put himself at the magnificent event of Christ’s birth. The result moved him to pen the words, “Who will tell Him of our gratitude, for all of us He is born, He suffers, and dies.” He could see that this Savior was born “to erase the stain of original sin and to end the wrath of His Father” and he concluded with the invitation and necessity to humbly bow before Him. Adolphe Adam, the composer, believed this poem had to be put to song which he did for the masses. Later, John S. Dwight took the song, kept the melody, and reworked the lyrics for American audiences.
Singing songs of truth is what focuses us at this time of year. It stirs our hearts to feel the weight of who Christ is and what His birth means for us. How could you not be moved by a line like, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope – the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”? As I said, singing is how we celebrate. It is how we are commanded to celebrate in Scripture (see Ps. 147:1, 148:1-5, Ps. 149:1). We’re even instructed in this classic to “…let all within us praise His holy name” by raising up “sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus.” I praise God for a song of truth like this to sing along to. I also pray that your season would be full of song as you keep singing and rejoicing in what this Holy Night has brought to us!
Merry Christmas! Pastor Rudy