Caroling Through Christmas: Christmas’ Emancipation Proclamation

Caroling Through Christmas: Christmas’ Emancipation Proclamation

The carols are replete with provocative theology. Sadly, we typically omit the most loaded verses from congregational singing. I do not necessarily believe there is some conspiracy afoot to omit challenging verses. Instead, I fear that the theological ears of the contemporary church no longer hear what those verses are saying. This is no more clear than in the words of O Holy Night. Have you ever sung all the words?

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend;

He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King! before him bend!

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 brother,
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, then ever! ever praise we!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!

In 1847, Adolphe Adame penned these words in French. The lyrics are the adaption of a poem by Placide Cappeau . The poem has a refrain that further extols the deliverance of the oppressed:

People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

The English translation of O Holy Night was written six years before the start of the American Civil War. I can only imagine the sounds of churches singing every verse of this in the mid-1800s. The poem and song is situated around Christmas, which is fitting, since one of the earliest Christmas songs is Mary’s Song, also known as the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty. – Mary


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