O Holy Night (Minuit, Chretiens)

O, holy night, it is a solemn hour,
When God-incarnate descended to man.
Taking the stain, erasing sin’s dark power,
Ending the wrath of His Father’s commands.
The whole earth waits, with hope and joy she quivers,
For on this night, our Savior, Christ, is seen!
Fall on your knees! Give heed to your Deliverer!
Noel! Noel! See the Man who would redeem.
Noel! Noel! See the Man who would redeem.

Light of our faith, and ardency of pining,
Has guided us to His natal retreat.
As when of old, the star in brilliance shining,
Summoned the kings from their home in the east.
The King of kings born humbly in a manger,
O, kings of earth, pride not then in your means!
Pride is the sin which brought God’s holy anger!
Come bow on your face, before He who redeemed.
Come bow on your face, before He who redeemed.

Jesus redeemed us from sin which all men smothers,
The earth is free, heaven’s doors open wide.
We once were slaves, but He calls us ‘brothers,’
And those He loves, never sword can divide!
So who declares our praise to Him, our reverence?
For us His birth, His death has set us free!
Christians, arise! And sing of your deliverance!
Noel! Noel! Honor Him who us redeemed.
Noel! Noel! Honor Him who us redeemed.

NOTES: This is a translation from Placide Cappeau’s original French poem ‘Minuit Chretiens’ (Or ‘Cantique de Noel’). One of the things that struck me when I first ran across Cappeau’s poem was how gospel focused it was — as opposed to the version of ‘O Holy Night’ (translated by John Sullivan Dwight) that we all sing at Christmas. I’d always liked the tune of ‘O Holy Night,’ but dismissed the song itself as a cheesy, fluffy Christmas song — with some lines that were border-line heretical! What I didn’t realize is that John Sullivan Dwight purposefully removed all references to Jesus’ divinity, and mankind’s sinfulness.

Dwight was a Unitarian, and a Transcendentalist. In other words, he believed that people were basically good, that there was no ultimate judgement for sin, and that Jesus was not God, but no more than an example of how to be a nice person. Dwight took this beautiful, gospel centered song — so rich with theology — and turned it into a feel-good, do-gooder’s song. To Dwight, the significance of Christmas was that ‘The soul found its worth,’ and that ‘the slave is our brother.’ In warping the song like this, he missed the true message of Christmas: Jesus came to redeem us from our sins — sins which justly condemned us to death and hell, according to God’s law. Though we were slaves to sin, God adopted us as co-heirs with Christ.

Christmas, then is not simply a time to think happy thoughts and be nice to each other. Christmas is a time to marvel at the awesome wonder of the incarnate God, who “Did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-10

I Think I Know How Joseph Felt

I think I know how Joseph felt,
When first he held our Lord and knelt,
Divinity held in his hands,
And he a sinful, simple man.
As Joseph looked upon that babe,
He felt unworthy and dismayed.
His failures stood out sheer and black,
Reminding him of all he lacked.
What fear at this entrusted Christ!
Yet God said Joseph would suffice.
He knew his every failing short,
Yet made him father of our Lord.
And though I do not hold the Christ,
When I look in my infant’s eyes,
I fear what Joseph understood:
That I will fail in fatherhood.
Yet Joseph had some comfort when,
He knew his son was without sin.
No failure or paternal lack,
Would turn Christ from His Father’s task.
Yet I have no such certainty,
My son and I are both guilty.
So when I fail, will he fail, too?
With both of us betraying You?
How can two failures glorify,
The name of Him who sits on High?
O Lord, anoint my shrinking heart,
And make me faithful to my part.
Fill up in me my weaknesses,
Let failings be Your witnesses,
To show my son your Son of grace,
That he will trust You all his days.

The Prayer of Joseph, Son of David

O Lord my God, who ever guided me,
Anoint my eyes that I might clearly see.
What is this horrid news which I have heard?
Then has another man made love to her?
For I would disbelieve it if I could,
For she seemed always godly, sure, and good.
And yet the child in her makes it clear,
That she has never really held me dear.
Was all her love and purity a show?
O Holy Father, only You would know.
I look to you for guidance in my mind;
What must I do with her who once was mine?
Perhaps — for her — I never was enough.
I could not make her happy, or feel loved.
So was I always insufficient then,
That to avoid me she would turn to sin?
Yet somehow, I yet love her through it all,
And would not wish to see, or cause, her fall.
If thus without me she is better pleased,
It is enough! I am content to leave.
I only pray her other lover will,
Bring her the joy that I could not instill.
So I forgive her as I set her free
God, surely this is what you’d have of me.

“Fear not, Joseph, for that babe is me.
And you who called me “Father” soon will be,
My earthly father. Rise, and take your bride!
And name the child Jesus. He will be the Christ.”