With each passing Christmas season it seems as though I get more and more excited with its advent (no pun intended), and enjoy each year more than the previous year. One of my favorite parts of the season are the Christmas songs – not the annoying ones that Congress ought to pass a law against (we can snoop on people’s cell phone conversations but we can’t make “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” go away???), but the ones that move our souls to remember why the season is so special.
To that end, I thought about writing a few few posts about my favorite songs and what makes them so darn good. Hopefully this is the first of several…feel free to comment and tell me what your favorite songs are and why.
Oh Holy Night
I can’t listen to this song without something stirring inside. The song takes us back to that moment of incarnation in Bethlehem better than most musical reproductions of the scene. In the first verse, the scene is set, you hear about the starts, the night, and you are there.
You are also reminded of the plight of man. Something has gone terribly wrong, and what is about to happen on this night is about to change, well, everything. The verse says, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” What are we pining for? A Savior. A Rescuer. The melody takes on a decidedly morose tone meant to cast some sadness on your heart, and remind you what is at stake…the fate of the world.
Then the second stanza breaks in: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, let ever, ever praise Thee
This is where I lose it! Haha! Seriously though, let me explain:Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother And in His name all oppression shall cease
These chains and the slavery are bound up in one idea, and it comes in a hint from the first stanza – sin. The whole world is bound up together in one cataclysmic death spiral and we’re spinning out of control toward one not so particularly delightful end.
Jesus, the One whose birth we’re hovering about in our minds eye is the One who is breaking the chains – Jesus is the pronoun “He” here – and He’s breaking both the chains of slavery and oppression (inferring that this slavery isn’t so great, in fact its vile and its destroying us). But it doesn’t stop there – the writer says that the “slave is our brother”, which could mean so many things, but in the context of the hymn what I think it means is that we are all slaves from the same family now having been redeemed by Christ. French poet Placide Cappeau who wrote the original lyrics first had a verse which was initially translated, “He sees a brother where there was only a slave, love unites those that iron had chained.”
So the thrust of this sentiment is that we are all in bondage to sin. It also has overtones that both physically free and physically enslaved all share in the brotherhood of mankind and are all slaves together until Christ redeems those who put their faith in Him.
It always “gets” me to sing that “in His name all oppression shall cease” because the idea here is there is this power – a real power – in the name of the baby being born. Why is that? Because He is a being born a King! Kings utter a word and servants obey. They go and do whatever their Lord tells them to do. When Jesus opens His mouth, every syllable necessarily brings forth obedience (think of the wind and waves obeying Him later in His ministry, and the creation coming forth at the beginning of Genesis 1). It is awful comforting to think that at the word of our King all oppression shall cease.
Finally, the hymn breaks forth into doxology:Let all within us praise His holy name Christ is the Lord, let ever, ever praise Thee
Paul’s Romans 11 praise echoes in my mind, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Rom. 11:33, 36)
When I sing this part of the verse, I realize that “all that is within us” praising “His holy name” is a call to respond to all the truth the writer has just impressed on our minds and hearts. That truth is that though the world was lost in the mire and bondage of sin, though the oppression of life had seemed to rule the day, though the entire course of life seemed destined toward eternal misery, yet here is One who will snatch us up from death into newness of life! This is the day, this is the hour, this is the moment when the “Christ” the “Savior” the “King” has come.
What a great song! I hope you can sing this song with gusto this Christmas as you ponder these profound and glorious truths in your heart.