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 True Tabernacle (Hebrews 8:1-6)

There is a temple real and true,
A dwelling place for God on high,
And all His saints may there commune,
Whose vaults resound with seraphs’ cries.
Yet not on earth was this tent laid,
Nor was it raised by mortal man.
A tent of skin in heaven made,
Erected by the Father’s hands.

Then all the temples which were made:
Of Moses, Solomon began,
Of Ezra, Herod, gold inlaid,
Were shadows, substance-less, and bland.
But Jesus was the true High-Priest,
Who ministered in this true tent.
The temple, yet, though none can see,
Out-shines all sensory content.

Yet Jesus is Himself this place,
For God and man unite in Him.
He is the temple of God’s grace,
And He is the true tent of skin.

The Greatest of Priests (Hebrews 7:4-11)

Haste to the greatest of priests,
Haste to the preacher of truth,
Haste to the speaker of blessings,
Haste to one greater than you,
Haste to the one who is living,
Haste, for He will make you new,
Haste to the one Abram worshiped,
Haste, this is needful to do!
Under the Law He abided,
Over the Law He resides,
Before the Law He has guided,
After the Law He presides.
Abraham though it was worth his pursuit,
Haste! And the Father will haste Him to you!