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

the Righteous King (Hebrews 7:1-3)

The righteous king, the prince of peace,
Melchizedek, the priest of priests.
Before the Levite he held claim,
To intercede in Yahweh’s name.
A priest who was not circumcised,
Yet Abraham paid him the tithe.
No father, mother, progeny,
His birth and death a mystery,
But he appears in the record,
As though eternal, like our Lord.
A priest forever – as the Christ,
Though neither of them were Levites,
By right not of his father earned,
But by the call of God confirmed.
He demonstrates the greater plan,
That God prepared when time began:
Not through the Levites to redeem,
But by a greater righteous king.
Melchizedek then was a type,
Of what would be revealed in Christ.
A priest to reign continually,
A king who will bring peace to be,
A prophet who will teach God’s word,
Which word predates the Law’s record.
One – Spirit, Son, and Father – three,
The prophet, priest, and righteous king.

Obedience

Both king and culture make commands,
That citizens obey their rules.
To disobey: the king will damn,
And culture will call you a fool.

And were not both ordained of God?
Then live in king and culture both.
So live at peace with in their laws,
And never needless rock the boat.

Remembering through all of this,
You have another King to serve,
And you’ve a culture that is His,
And always this you must preserve.

You are no slave of worldly ways.
When they negate the gospel’s truth,
Then you must stand, strong and unfazed,
And trust that God will work through you.

For customs curtsey to great kings,
And we are citizens through Him.
So He may call us not to sing,
When culture plays its market-hymn.

Yet never lightly does He call,
And never lightly should we act,
Though kings will boil you in gall,
And by the culture you are sacked.

We have no promise of our ease,
But we will suffer for His sake.
Though never marked in history,
As heroes, or as martyrs great.

But when He calls you to subvert,
Remember this through suffering:
That He has suffered for you first.
Obedience will praise the King.