Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"O Holy Night"

Aaaah,carols. My lovely little book pictured above, Christ in the Carols, tells us that the origin of the term "carols" is unclear. Some believe it is derived from the Greek word for dance, choros. Others think it may come from the French carole which describes a type of dance often performed to flute music. Carols, in either case, are associated with celebration, with joy and dancing. Some assert that Saint Francis was responsible for creating the first Christmas carols.

In England, the word carol describes a "lyrical poem" which celebrates events of the Christian calendar: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, etc. Over the years, more carols were composed to celebrate Christmas than any other Christian holy day, and thus carols became associated almost exclusively with the celebration of Christ's birth.

Carols are my favorite part of the celebrations of the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons. The words, the theology, are often deep, exploring the meaning of Christ's first coming to earth as a helpless infant born to an impoverished, insignificant, unwed mother and her longsuffering fiance, bringing salvation in His wake.

Carols. They are so easy to sing that little toddlers can lisp "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night"; thus, it becomes increasingly easy to miss the significance of the words and phrases wrapped in oh-so-familiar melodies. But when we free these poems (for poems they are) from their melodies, their phrases plunge heart-deep into our souls, revealing Christ for who He truly is: the finally-arrived Messiah, the Saviour of the World. I find that reading these carols aloud, as poetry, deliberately and meditatively, unveils the depth of their expressions of praise, awe, and wonder.

Like those shepherds of old, watching over their fields by night, we witness the arrival of the Saviour, our Saviour, who is indeed Christ the Lord, as we read these carols. So here I post one of my favourite carols for you to read aloud, too. Allow the words and phrases, so familiar yet so filled with awe, pierce your heart, mind, and soul. I cannot but "fall on my knees" as I "hear the angel voices...."

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 Spirit 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, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love, and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Originally a poem written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847 by request of his parish priest to celebrate Christmas, de Roquemaure approached a friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, requesting him to compose music for the poem. It was translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight. And it is and shall remain my favourite Christmas carol. My preferred performance is a video I recorded and still have on a well-worn VHS tape of John Denver on the Today Show, the last Christmas before his death in 1997, accompanying himself solely with his guitar. After the guests leave and the children go to bed each Christmas Eve, I pull it out and watch it, letting the tears of awe and joy spill down my cheeks. John Denver doesn't quite make the high note in this live performance, but I love it for its simplicity and reliance on the words that mean so much to our so "weary world."

holy experience


1 comment:

Jane D. said...

Thank you susanne, I have never noticed this line before:

"He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,"

how very very beautiful, thank you for sharing it x.


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