I want to share with you the story behind one of the favourite Christmas carols we sing over Christmas... 'O Holy Night'.
It’s a beautiful song, but also has an amazing history.
This last Sunday we had the kids perform a Christmas skit called Bethlehem FM. It was the Christmas story done from radio interviews with those onsite in and around Bethlehem.
Well, the story of O Holy Night relates well to that theme of Radio. It ties into the history of the very first voice over radio broadcast some 120 years ago.
Before 1906 it was only possible to wirelessly transmit dots and dashes known as morse code. Being able to wirelessly transmit morse code was considered an exciting innovation which was made possible from 1894. Before this it was only possible to transmit morse code over physical wires. This new wireless technology allowed communication with ships out at sea.
But it was still limited, and one man wanted more. A Canadian physicist name Reginald Aubrey Fessenden came on the scene and wanted to push the boundaries. He wanted to get human voice on the wireless airwaves.
Some mocked him. Many doubted, but he persevered.
It was only 12 years after the first wireless broadcast of morse code, that Reginald made one of the biggest breakthroughs of modern-day technology.
On Christmas Eve of 1906, he went live with the very first voice over radio broadcast.
Beamed out from a 400-foot tower he had built at Brant Rock, Massachusetts on the Atlantic coast. The program commenced with a general call to all stations, which was sent out in dots and dashes. He then had the attention of every ship in the Atlantic within range.
Then, over the microphone, Reginald himself gave a brief speech as to the program to follow. This was immediately followed by switching on the Edison phonograph playing Handel's 'Largo'.
He next picked up his violin and played “O Holy Night”. Notably, he sang the last verse.
The recital ended with a brief Bible reading from Luke 2:14. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
He concluded by wishing his listeners “A Merry Christmas”.
Widespread shock was recorded across the entire shipping community sailing across the Atlantic at that time.
The last verse of O Holy Night is also historical for another reason:
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
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
The actual song Premiered in 1847 France and was first called: Cantique de Noël - English Translation ‘Song of Christmas’
A decade later, an American writer, John Sullivan Dwight, saw something in the song that moved him.
An abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.”
This verse mirrored Dwight’s view of slavery in the South.
He published his English translation of “O Holy Night” in his magazine, and the song quickly found favour in America, especially in the North during the Civil War.
Back in France, legend has it that on Christmas Eve 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between the armies of Germany and France, during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench. Both sides stared at the seemingly crazed man who lifted his eyes to the heavens and began singing “Cantique de Noel.” Then a German soldier stepped into the open and answered the Frenchman’s song with Martin Luther’s “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”
The story goes that the fighting stopped for the next twenty-four hours while the men on both sides observed a temporary peace in honor of Christmas day.
Similar stories exist around Christmas 1914 during WW1 (Minus the song...i think).
So as we reflect on Christmas this year, and we consider the 'Song of Christmas' let's remember that the story of Christmas is a message of peace:
Reflected by the Angels message in Luke 2:14:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
It’s a message to remind ourselves of…
In a world where peace is shallow.
Where sin abounds and darkness troubles.
Where people cannot find peace within.
Jesus is the answer.
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
That verse is founded upon the promise that Jesus is returning for His church.
Peace is the message we carry as believers… the gospel of peace.
Christmas therefore is an invitation.
Listen how Paul uses the words “The Gospel of Peace”.
Rom 10:13 For "WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED."
Rom 10:14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
Rom 10:15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO PREACH THE GOSPEL OF PEACE, WHO BRING GLAD TIDINGS OF GOOD THINGS!"
That’s the message we carry. Go like the shepherds and make Him known!