O Holy Night…. 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 brothers; 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! O praise his name forever. HIs power and glory evermore proclaim.
Based upon a French poem, Cantique de Noel, it was Unitarian Minister John Sullivan Dwight who created the popular English translation in 1855 which we all now know and love.
Since most recordings use only the first verse, many people do not realize the controversy originally tied to this song. It was beloved in the North in the United States and tied to the abolition of slavery. Which is why I both ensure it is always a part of Christmas Eve worship at churches where I serve and ensure that we always sing the third verse as (which I have quoted above) as well as the first.
Why does it matter? Especially on the night when all we care about is the warm fuzzies?
Because Jesus did not come to create a merely holly-jolly season of superficial feelings.
Jesus the Messiah came to turn the world upside down. To lift up the poor and cast tyrants from their thrones. To feed the hungry and welcome the homeless. To fight for the oppressed and stand with the outcast. To free the enslaved and to break the chains that bind forever. Not just to cast out our individual sin, but to break the back of the systemic sin the continuously cripples our world and everyone in it.
That is the power and glory of the Christ we proclaim.
So when you hear that high note tonight, and I hope you manage to find it somewhere, remember that we are not welcoming the prince of lack of conflict. We are welcoming the Prince of Peace – true peace that will bring justice to reign, hope that will never fail, and love that will always endure.