Most of us have our favourite Christmas carols – maybe you’ve been quietly singing them to yourself over the past few weeks. My favourite, by a long way, is ‘O Holy Night’. Its lyrics and music are captivating.
There’s a fascinating history behind this carol. It was first sung in France in 1847 amidst some controversy, as the lyrics were written by an atheist and the music composed by a Jew. However, the song had quickly gained such popularity that this controversy was forgotten.
The translation of this carol into English was done by a famous abolitionist, who was particularly moved by the words in the 3rd verse, ‘Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease’.
This carol was played in the first ever radio broadcast carrying a human voice. On Christmas Eve, 1906, Professor Reginald Fessenden, in Brant Rock, Massachusetts, played a recording from Handel, took up his violin and played this ‘O Holy Night’, and then read from Luke 2.
For me, the lyrics which resonate most are, ‘A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices’.
For everyone except a few people, the first Christmas would have gone by unnoticed. But from that moment onwards, everything changed. If the story is true, God entered into our world. He had come to rescue his people. It was a ‘thrill of hope’, an extraordinary moment that would have eternal implications.
Jesus was born in a time weary with suffering. Our world continues to be weary, especially after the year we’ve just had. All of us hope that the difficulties of this past year will soon pass. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll always experience difficulties in some way. We need a hope that is more secure, unfailing, permanent. Maybe you hope for our present difficulties to pass this Christmas, so that you can put this year behind you. Perhaps instead you can look to the Christmas hope.
Christmas tells us that despite the mess of our world, God has not abandoned us. That is something worth rejoicing in, despite our weariness.