A Thrill of Hope

It’s that time of year when Christmas music fills the air. We all have our favorite songs of the season, and one that is usually on everyone’s list of favorites is “O Holy Night.” It’s a classic old carol with an interesting story behind it.

The song was composed and the lyrics written in the small French town of Roquemaure, in the 1840’s. The church organ had recently been renovated, and to celebrate the event the parish priest asked a local wine merchant and poet named Placide Cappeau to write a Christmas poem, even though Cappeau had never really shown any interest in religion. Soon afterwards, Adolphe Adam composed the music.

It’s strange that one of our favorite songs about the birth of Jesus was written by someone who did not profess to be a believer in Him. And yet the message of the song is profound in its understanding of what transpired that “holy night,” when our Savior was born. It is also strange, when you read the literal translation of the song from French into English, how some of the phrases turned out. Here’s the first verse:

Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour,
When God as man descended unto us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.

Of course, here’s the way we know and sing it now, rewritten by John Sullivan Dwight in 1855.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The one line that seems to have translated best are those familiar words: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”  And really, that is still the message of Christmas for us, 163 years later. If ever there was a descriptive term for our world today, it would be “weary,” and if ever there was something we need the most it would be hope. And we find that, not just in Christmas, but in the Christ who came.

You may have heard the story about Larry and Elmer who were out hunting in the woods and got lost. Trying to reassure his friend, Larry said, “Don’t lose hope, Elmer. All we have to do is shoot into the air three times, stay where we are, and hopefully someone will hear and come find us.” They shot into the air three times, but no one came. After a while, they tried again but there was still no response. They decided to try once more but not before Elmer said, “I hope it works this time. We’re down to our last three arrows.”

Perhaps you feel like you’re down to your last three arrows. Maybe you are feeling hopeless and helpless, and for you, ’tis not the season to be jolly. Instead of a Norman Rockwell painting, your holiday season looks a little more like a Griswold Christmas.

The promise of Advent is a promise of hope, grounded in the past and assured for the future. No matter what you are facing, no matter how weary you feel, there is hope in Jesus. I hope you will rest in His hope this Christmas season, and all the year round.