The year was 1847 in a small French town and the local commissionaire of wines was a man by the name of Placide Cappeau. Not only was he known for his inspections of wine, he was an avid poet. In preparation for the Christmas season Cappeau was approached by the local priest to compose a poem for a Christmas service in Paris.
As a nominal church attender at best, Cappeau was hesitant but accepted the task. After reading the Gospel of Luke for insight and inspiration, he envisioned what it might have been like to have been in Bethlehem and witness the birth of Jesus.
During the long carriage ride to Paris and using this perspective as inspiration, he penned the words to "Cantique de Noel", or what we know today as O Holy Night.
Although pleased with the words he had written, Cappeau felt it would be more powerful if put to music. So he engaged a friend of his, Adolphe Charles Adams, who himself was a well-known composer having written musical pieces for orchestras and ballets all over Europe.
As a Jew, Adams was reluctant to participate. After all, why be a part of something you don't celebrate yourself. Still, Adams found something inspiring about the poem and agreed to the challenge. Within three weeks Adams had created an original score, unlike anything he'd written before.
Upon completion, the song was immediately performed at Christmas Eve Mass in Paris. Churches across France fervently embraced this beautiful new hymn and over the years it became a staple for choirs to sing at Christmas time.
However, as time passed Cappeau, who was nominal at best, eventually walked away from the Catholic church. With disdain for Cappeau and the news that the music was composed by a Jew, the hierarchy of the Catholic church in France banned the singing of Cantique de Noel.
But this would not silence this inspiring Christmas song. Townspeople in rural France refused the church's ban continued to sing the hymn in their homes and social gatherings during Christmas. What was once a heralded national Christmas anthem of sort, quickly made it's way to being an underground hit.
Now, you may think that is an amazing story...and you'd be correct but it gets more interesting.....
About 12 years later (circa 1860's) this beloved Christmas song "of the people" was somehow discovered by an obscure Unitarian minister and American writer named John Sullivan Dwight. Instantly, Dwight was moved by both the soaring music and the inspiring lyrics. He determined that American audiences needed to hear the powerful message this hymn proclaimed. He was particularly drawn to how beautifully Cappeau had married the two messages of the Good News of the Gospel and the freedom that is endowed to every man by his Creator.
You see, Dwight was an ardent abolitionist and was particularly moved by the words in the second verse...
"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."
Dwight took on the task to translate the lyrics into English and renamed the hymn O Holy Night. He later had it published in a magazine and it quickly found an audience in the American north and was celebrated as an anthem of freedom during the Civil War.
WOW!!! What an incredible story from history. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for little known stories like this. I've always found the "why" behind the "what" very interesting. Not to mention that this has always been my favorite Christmas hymn. Every Christmas I meditate on each verse of this song, allowing it to remind me of the simple, yet, powerful message that God has reconciled us unto Himself and with each other.
Granted, in reality, very little, if anything about that first Christmas night was "holy". Things were quite ordinary when you really think about it. Everything from the evening itself to the town to the people in God's beautiful scheme...all very ordinary. One thing that was not ordinary, though...the baby.
Which brings me to my point. It's interesting that this beloved Christmas song was written by a borderline atheist, composed by a nominal Jew, banned from the Catholic church, translated by a minister with questionable theology but admirable intentions, and eventually be the first song broadcasted wirelessly over radio in 1906 (left that story out...look that up yourself). I find it amazing that Cappeau was inspired to pen his words by imagining himself there on that night when Jesus was born. To him, and us as well, he looked "back" in history and recognized the glory of Emmanuel.
But that's not how it was in real time. Mary and Joseph, although obedient servants of God, were terrified. The nasty conditions of a stable full of animals was not an ideal delivery room. No doubt they were exhausted both mentally and physically with no help from family or friends. Not to mention they weren't really from the rich side of town with a nice inheritance to fall back on. No, I'd say they were relatively ordinary folks like you and me.
It's funny how contrasting the season we celebrate is from the way we celebrate it. Every year we ramp up the Christmas season with decorations, parties, shopping, food, and gifts. We run ourselves into exhaustion while running our bank accounts into depletion all the while saying the reason for the season is the birth of Jesus. Whaaaat!!??
Maybe this year could be different. Maybe we choose to be a little more "ordinary". Maybe we consider how the simple things can bring the most enduring and satisfying feelings we come to expect during this holiday season. To many, Christmas is not a magical time of year. It can be lonely, sad, frustrating, and stressful. Maybe we consider how to offer a small glimmer of hope or encouragement to folks like this. The opportunities are there, maybe we just need to look past the stuff and start noticing people.
I pray this season finds you filled with peace and hope. I pray you discover a fresh encounter with the simple beauty of the message of O HOLY NIGHT. And I pray that message resonates from your life to those around you.
I wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and I look forward to what God will do in 2017 through MANTIME.
PS...Find some alone time and listen to this rendition. Try to look past the cheesy setting or better, put in some earbuds and close your eyes.
Keeping Manliness In The Nest
In the spirit of this season of giving I decided to share some ideas that you can buy for your wife instead of yourself. Luckily, my beloved wife, aka The Nester, and whom many you guys' wives follow online has done the work for me. Below is a link to her blog and a "favorite things" shop that she put together for her readers. Maybe you'll find something that she'll enjoy and make you look like a champ at the same time.
Since it's Christmas read the Birth of Christ from both Gospel accounts-- Matthew 2 & Luke 2-- and pay attention to the obvious and not-so-obvious. Ask questions while you're reading and jot down your observations.