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O Holy Night

We are looking at popular Christmas hymns and their origins in Biblical truth during this advent season. Our objective is not to exposit the hymns, but to worship along with the hymn writer and the countless others who know the hymn. We will look at the Biblical truths that inspire the hymn.

This week we are singing the hymn, “O Holy Night.”

In Roquemaure, France, in the year 1843, a church organ was renovated. To celebrate the a parish priest persuaded poet Placide Cappeau to write a Christmas poem to celebrate the occasion. Later that year, Adolphe Adam composed the music. The hymn was translated to English by John Sullivan Dwight in 1855.[1]

The poet writes a beautiful poem because he is inspired by the truth of Christmas. The hymn expresses worship and adoration for Christ the Savior. For almost 200 years, the saints of God have joined together to sing this song in grateful worship. In doing so, we are reminded of what Paul writes to the Colossians:

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

We sing spiritual songs of the truth of Christmas with thankfulness in our hearts for what God has done.

Jesus Gives Us Worth

Jesus is Born on a Holy Night

The writer of the hymn begins by talking about a particular night in the history of the world. It is a holy night.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth

To be made holy is to be set apart from the ordinary. The priests would take ordinary utensils, bowls, candleholders, and so forth, cleanse them, and set them aside for use in the Temple. The cleansing makes the utensils holy. The priests wash their bodies and garments before serving in the Temple. In doing so, they make themselves holy and set apart.

Certainly the night Jesus is born is a most holy night. It is a night set apart from all other nights. The presence of Jesus makes the night holy. It is a night set apart as holy because it is the night Jesus, the holy offspring of the Holy Spirit, is born in Bethlehem. There is nothing ordinary about Jesus. He is pure and morally perfect.

God sends Jesus to perform a holy mission to be the Savior of the world. Jesus is born to change corrupt people into holy vessels, set apart for the Lord’s service. He is to cleanse the world from sin.

Long in Sin

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

Long lay the world, ever since the beginning, from the days of Adam and Eve, the world has laid in sin and error. We live in a world cursed by sin. Nothing is easy. We toil to eat. We seek to grow lush plants, but thorns and thistles grow instead. Gathering our daily bread brings sweat to our faces. The destiny for every person under the sun is to return to the dust from whence we came (Genesis 3:17-19).

The translator of the hymn uses a word not often used today, which is pining. When someone is pining, they suffer a mental and physical decline. They are in a deep depression, and it affects their life, so they stop caring about life. They lose their appetite and will to live. In most cases, people are pining because they have a broken heart. The world is in pining because sin separates us from God, and our soul is in anguish.

The writer of the hymn captures our condition well. As we live under the curse of sin, we are pining. We feel valueless. What good is life except for blood, sweat, and tears? The soul’s worth is weighed in dust.

Everything changes on the holy night of our dear Savior’s birth. Jesus appears, and our soul feels its worth. Suddenly, there is a reason to live. The reason our soul gains value is that our Savior gives us Himself. He gives us worth because we belong to Him.

Our Holy Savior joins us in an eternal union that cannot be purchased with gold, silver, or precious gems. We are redeemed with something precious. The value of our soul is weighed in the blood the Savior spills on our behalf.

Jesus is a Treasure, and He gives Himself to us.

Hope new day dawns

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Sin covers the world like a dark blanket. But, because Jesus is born, there is the thrill of hope. We look to the east, and we see that we live in a new age, a glorious morning. The light of the world enters this world’s darkness and shines the light of the gospel into hearts.

With Jesus, the dark curse of sin lifts. Our destiny of turning to dust changes into a destiny of sharing in the eternal glory of our Savior. As the writer of Hebrews says, we have a hope that is an anchor for our soul (Hebrews 6:17-20). We have a future with a new and glorious morn.

Chorus
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

Jesus Satisfies Our Worship

We are born worshippers

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:

It is by faith that we come to Jesus. There is no other way. We must believe in Him as the Savior of the world.

Believing in Jesus involves far more than believing that He exists. Many people believe that Jesus is born as a man. Most historians confirm the authenticity of Jesus, but they do not worship Him. The faith that pleases God is a faith that believes Jesus is Savior and Lord.

The writer of the hymn turns a fascinating phrase for those who stand by the cradle of Jesus. He says those who have faith in Christ stand with glowing hearts.

To come to Jesus by faith is to come, not just with the mind, but with a heart full of devotion. Our hearts glow because we adore Jesus, and He satisfies our worship.

We are born with a heart that loves to worship. We love great and beautiful things. We stand in awe, looking into the stars of the galaxy or a beautiful landscape. We love art, music, and literature that awakens our mind. We desire for our senses to be stirred with fresh inspirations. We love things that bring us wonder and amazement. We are made to worship.

When we worship we express value to someone or something. We worship what we love. Some people worship celebrities, while others worship food or automobiles. We can measure our worship by how much money and time we spend on the object of worship.

We worship Jesus because He satisfies our every longing. Jesus is the Bread of Life who fills our hunger (John 6:35). To the architect and builder, He is the Chief Cornerstone (Ps. 118:22). When we seek justice we turn to Jesus our Advocate (1 John 2:1). When we are lost, we call to Him, for He is the Way (John 14:6).

There is an infinite number of ways Jesus satisfies our longings. He is Faithful and True (Rev.19:11), the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 22:13), Author and Perfecter of Our Faith (Heb. 12:2), and the Great Shepherd of the Sheep (John 10:11). We worship Jesus. the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. It is no wonder that Scripture calls Him our all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Humble King of kings

We stand by the cradle of Jesus, having been led by our faith with hearts glowing. The writer of the hymn adds more people who stand by the cradle of Jesus.

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;

As Jesus is in Bethlehem, Scripture tells us that magi from the east, the wise men from Orient land, arrive in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-11). God leads them first to Jerusalem by a star, and the chief priests and scribes tell the magi that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.

The star further leads the wise men to Bethlehem. It shines brightly over the place where Jesus lay, and the magi rejoice exceedingly with great joy. They enter the house and see Jesus with Mary, and they fall to the ground and worship Him. Then, opening their treasures, they present to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

Jesus is worshipped by dignitaries and common people. Jesus is truly the Sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords. His power and glory and dominion is everlasting. There is no king or queen of greater power. Jesus bows down to no man or woman or any other created being. There is no higher throne or greater authority (1 Timothy 6:15-16).

Born to be our friend

We ponder the greatness of Jesus, who at the time of His birth, is visited by wise men who travel from the east to bring Him gifts and worship Him. We think of all the angels, principalities, and powers of creation that bow before His throne.

And yet, Jesus tells us that He calls us friends (John 15:15). He empties Himself of His divine glory to become one of us; God in the flesh. Jesus knows our weakness. He knows what it means to be hungry. He cries out that He thirsts. He toils and sweats. He becomes tired and must sleep. He suffers pain and anguish. Jesus knows what it means to face imminent death. To our weakness, He is no stranger.

Jesus lays aside all His privileges to become one of us. He freely gives us all that is His. What king has ever done what Jesus has done? What king has ever become a lowly servant? What king calls us friend? What king will look upon a subject that rebels against his authority, step off the throne, and suffer the death penalty punishment in place of their subject? Have you ever known of such a king?

We know this King, and His name is Jesus.

Chorus
He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King! before him bend!

Jesus Sets Us Free

Jesus brings Peace

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;

Jesus teaches us in the ways of love, not hate. Since the fall, sin has hidden true love from our eyes.

Jesus demonstrates true love when He dies for sinners. Peter denies even knowing Jesus three times, and yet Jesus dies for Peter. Saul of Tarsus participates in the stoning of Stephen, yet Jesus dies for Saul (who later becomes Paul).

We were once rebellious sinners, and Jesus dies for us. He takes the full brunt of the wrath of God on our behalf, even though none of us are worthy to have our life spared. We deserve punishment for our sins. But, Jesus loves. He teaches us to love one another.

His law is love, and His gospel is peace. Jesus brings us into a peaceful relationship with God, the Father. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1)

After rising from the dead, the first words Jesus says to His disciples is “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 26). The peace Jesus gives is peace from heaven. He says,

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:27)

Because of Jesus, our hearts need not be troubled. He gives us His peace.

Jesus sets us free

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,

The man who translated this hymn from French to English, John Sullivan Dwight, was an abolitionist. [2]  He translated the hymn six years before the US Civil War began. The hymn became popular in the United States, especially in the North, and rightly so. Listen again to the words, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.”

We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are oppressed and held captive. Some are thrown into prisons because they proclaim faith in Christ. Others are in spiritual bondage because they are captive to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or pornography. Some are captive to blindness or disease.

Throughout the Scripture, we are told how Christ, the Messiah, will set the captive free.

Shake yourself from the dust, rise up, O captive Jerusalem; Loose yourself from the chains around your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. For thus says the LORD, “You were sold for nothing and you will be redeemed without money. (Isaiah 52:2-3)

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Jesus sets us free from the tyranny of sin, death, and Satan (Galatians 5:1).

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!

Why do we sing sweet hymns of joy as a grateful chorus? Why do we have all that is within us to praise His holy name? Because yonder breaks a new morn, because Jesus is born to be our friend, and because we are set free. We sing joyful choruses with thankful hearts because our soul feels its worth.

Jesus is worthy of our Praise

Chorus
Christ is the Lord, Oh Praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!

The hymn ends with joyful praise. There is no greater truth to proclaim that the curse of sin is come to an end. Nothing compares to the gospel. It is the most important truth on our tongue.

A little under two thousand years ago, in a city of Greece, two men were thrown in jail for causing a disturbance. The conditions are difficult. They are in chains and it is dark and damp.

But, these men know Jesus. Around midnight, the two prisoners are praying and singing hymns of praise to God. Even though it is the dead of night, the other prisoners are listening to them.

These two men have truth that is too great to keep quiet. Even though they are wrongfully imprisoned, they continue to praise God. They are on a mission to let everyone know that Jesus Christ is Lord. They proclaim His power and glory.

Their names are Paul and Silas. The prison is in Philippi, Greece. As they sing at midnight, suddenly, a great earthquake shakes the foundations of the prison. Immediately all the doors open, and everyone’s chains unfasten. The jailer wakes and panics. He is about to kill himself because he thinks the prisoners have escaped during his watch. But Paul stops him and says, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” The jailer rushes in, and trembling with fear, he falls before Paul and Silas and asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They tell him to believe in the Lord Jesus. (Acts 16:25-31)

Christ is the Lord. Proclaim His name forever. What should get in our way of proclaiming His name? Paul and Silas do not let prison get in their way of proclaiming Jesus. They use difficult circumstances to their advantage. They are not complaining in prison, instead, they are proclaiming!

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Hebrews 13:15)

Sing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Proclaim His name forevermore.

 

 

Lyrics – O Holy Night

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;
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;

Chorus
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy 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;

Chorus
He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King! before him 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!

Chorus
Christ is the Lord, Oh praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Holy_Night

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Holy_Night