This favorite Advent hymn has a surprising origin that I want to take some time to share. It was written by Placide Cappeau of France in 1847. Placide suffered a terrible accident at the age of 8 when a playmate shot him in the hand by mistake . He ended up losing his hand as a result. The playmate’s father felt so badly about the incident that he helped pay for Placide’s education which enabled him to attend school and college. He was extremely talented in literature, art and law. Below is a quote from hymnary which might shock you as much as it did me!
“A parish priest, Father Petitjean, In Cappeau’s community, asked him to write a Christmas poem to celebrate the renovation of their organ, and he agreed to do it, despite being an avowed atheist and vocal anti-cleric. He researched the book of Luke and wrote the lyrics to ‘O Holy Night.’ An opera singer, Emily Laurie, saw the text and asked a Jewish friend of hers to compose music for it, which he, remarkably, did. She sung it at a midnight mass three weeks later, and parishioners raved, but when Catholic church leaders found out it was written by an atheist, they banned it. However, its popularity only grew” (Hymnary).
Here is more amazing history from Ireland’s Own website.
“An extraordinary happening during the 1870/71 Franco-Prussian War was allegedly the reason the Catholic Church authorities received the song back into religious ceremonies. During a lull in battle, a French soldier jumped up out of his trench, stood in full view, and sang Cantique de Noel (Song of Christmas, Placide’s original title for O Holy Night). “Not one shot was fired at him. The Germans were so moved that one of their soldiers then stood up and sang one of Martin Luther’s hymns. Nobody fired a shot at him either. It resulted in the armies of both sides honouring a 24 hour Christmas truce” (Ireland’s Own excerpt).
O Holy Night became the first song ever to be broadcast on the radio. On Christmas Eve, 1906, “Reginald Fessenden (former chief chemist for Thomas Edison), using a new type of generator, spoke into a microphone and for the first time in history a voice was broadcast over the airwaves. And he read from the book of Luke.” After reading the Christmas story, he “picked up his violin and played ‘O Holy Night,’ the first song ever played over the airwaves in the whole world.” Up to this time, “radio operators on ships and wireless owners at newspapers only used radio for Morse code over tiny speakers.” Imagine their surprise when they suddenly heard a voice in their speakers! (Hymnary, Wikipedia ).
This Christmas hymn is rich in Gospel truth. One of my favorite phrases is “long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth!” The whole Advent story happened because God loves and values us. We cannot truly feel worth until we experience the saving power of Christ in deliverance from our sinful state. Romans 5:8 says, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ESV).
Another favorite phrase in this hymn is “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 is no stranger. Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!” Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” This verse is amazing and could be it’s own blog post! Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:1-5). He suffered the full-on power of Satan, yet without sin! He had no sin nature within Him to cause Him to fall. Because He had no sin, He proved to be the Only One capable of defeating Satan! 1 Corinthians 15:57 “but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (NASB).
And then of course, “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.” There is so much oppression and enslavement in this world because of sin. We have especially seen it rare its ugly head in 2020. Jesus breaks the chains of sin and oppression! Romans 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (NASB).
Placide Cappeau died thirty years after penning these famous words. My hope and prayer is that he came to know the Lord at some point before he died!
2. Read Psalm Psalm 139:1-18. What do you learn about God’s watch care over you?
3. What does 1 Corinthians 15:54-58. What has Christ won the victory over?
4. Read John 8:31-36. What does Jesus set us free from?
5. Read Galatians 5:1. Why did Christ set us free?
Click here to listen to Josh Groban sing “O Holy Night” on YouTube.
Click here to listen to Tim Janis instrumental version on Spotify.