Saturday, December 24, 2016

"The Thrill of Hope": Reflections on O Holy Night




Fun fact alert!  

I read in the book, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas , that O Holy Night was the very first song ever to be broadcast over the radio waves on Christmas Eve 1906, launching a completely new platform for music to be transmitted and enjoyed.  What an amazing experience it must have been to have heard this beautiful hymn on the air waves for the very first time.  Just another miracle of Christmas. Let us pray that all radio transmissions give glory to God the way the very first one did!

O Holy Night is my hands-down favorite Christmas hymn and much to my children's chagrin I can listen to it over and over and over again (especially if Josh Groban is crooning it). This song is rich in meaning and has provided much to meditate on and pray about. Let's look at a few of it's most powerful lines.....

"Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth." 

For many, Christmas can be a time of sorrow and loneliness - a time when the smiles and happiness of others can serve as a magnifying glass on one's own struggles.

The promise that Christ brings with his incarnation is to show us our own worth.  It is only in Christ, that we can truly understand our dignity and value as the sons and daughters of the most high. John 3:16 reminds us that "God so loved the world that he sent is only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." St. Augustine, in his Confessions reveals this startling insight into God the Father's paternal love: "You are good and all-powerful, caring for each one of us as though the only one in your care." 

Think about that for a second...God cares for us as if we were the only one - no fighting for his attention, no bickering with our siblings because we want more "Daddy" time.  What a great and comforting thought that is! When faced with the evidence of such a loving and merciful Father, how can we not help but feel our worth.

If this is an area of challenge for you, I encourage you this Christmas to ask God the Father to reveal his great love for you in a new and deeper way - in this experience of his love, you will come to know your own soul's worth.


"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn."

I'm tired. Most people I know are tired. The combination of watching the news and then going to the mall and joining the rat-race of stressed and exhausted shoppers trying to get their lists checked is overwhelming.  Most people's faces are indeed weary. Living in the world in 2016 is a daunting task. Life, I imagine, has always been this way.  No doubt the travelers at the time of Christ's birth were weary - weary of being oppressed by a foreign ruler, of having to participate in an intrusive census of having the values they cherished challenged. They like us, were uncertain of the future and anxious about their lives.

What promise this line from the song provides!  The hope that the incarnation of the Lord brings should give us a thrill!  In Jesus' birth, our weary world experiences the promise of salvation, redemption and the "freedom of the children of God" (Rom 8:21) This is not a theoretical, pie in the sky ideal.  Christ's incarnation really ushers in a new and glorious morn that is still available for us to grab hold of.  Weariness can be replaced by a deep and abiding joy in the possibilities that the Incarnation promises.

This Christmas, open your hearts to experience this "thrill of hope" in a new and powerful way.  Ask the Lord to reveal to you how his Incarnation has changed not only the world but you personally.  


"Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother and in his name all oppression shall cease." 

In Luke 4:18, Jesus takes up the scroll of Isaiah and proclaims: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." The Lord Jesus is still in the business of breaking the chains that bind us - chains of sin, unforgiveness, bitterness and addiction. 

The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers us a personal encounter with the God of mercy - the same Jesus who was born 2016 in a manger works through the words of the priest to break the power of sin in our lives. The Lord loves us and desires us to be free from all forms of slavery.  If you are struggling with the chains in your life, I highly recommend Neal Lozano's book Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance .

During this season of Christmas, spend some moments in silence asking the Lord to reveal any areas of oppression which exist in your life and the lives of those you love, and in confident and trusting prayer ask him to break those chains. 

What should our response to this amazing mystery of Christmas be?

The song itself provides the answer: 
"Sweet hymns of joy, in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us praise his holy name." 

Together let us raise our voices and our hearts to praise and thank the Lord this Christmas. 


Josh Groban's rendition of O Holy Night is one of my personal favorite versions of the song and here it is set to video accompanied by images from the movie The Nativity Story.




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