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12 Days of Christmas (Carols) -- A Special New Year's Eve Holy Night Reflection

This is adapted from my 2021’s Christmas Eve sermon. I have adapted it for New Year’s Eve 2022.

A couple of nights ago I was struggling with the holiday spirit.

The fierce pounding of rain.

The red and white LA holiday lights of absurd traffic.

Three years, almost, of COVID…and the flu…and RSV.

The toil all of this has had on bodies and lives and relationships.

A weary world.

In sin and error pinning.

Those words hung in the air of my car.

And so I played my favorite Christmas carol — O Holy Night.

Hoping that it would stir something within me.

And the song did stir. There is a breath-taking beauty to this simple and yet challenging song.

O Holy Night has an amazing story.

Poet and commissionare of wines, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was known more for poetry and wine than church attendance.

Still a friend and local priest asked this poet to pen a new poem for Christmas mass in 1847.

The poet sat down with the gospel of Luke and tried to imagine himself there. Witnessing stars. Witnessing angels. Witnessing the real birth of a baby.

The words hung and stirred something within him. And Placide decided that it wasn’t just a poem but a song.

So he decided his master musical and fellow political radical Adolphe Charles Adams would be perfect. And even though Adolphe was Jewish and not Christian, the words stirred him to create beauty.

The words and music overwhelmed the priest and was performed three weeks after Placide first wrote the words at the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Quickly the song found her way into all kinds of Catholic Christmas services. And it became an anthem for Christmas. For love. For fidelity. For the movement of Christ that breaks the bonds and chains of slavery and of oppression. An anthem that takes seriously the Gospel claims that Christ came in love and peace.

But when the church realized that Placide was a political radical and not an institutionalist or monarchist and that Adolphe Adams was Jewish, the beloved song was suddenly denounced. Deemed unfit as having a total absence of the spirit of religion.

Yet, the song was still the people’s song. Sung in homes and private quarters the song was beating in the people’s hearts echoing the beating of the liberating beat of drums. O Holy Night calls people to sing. It is music of the people. Beyond the radical barricades and towards the manger…the sign that life is about to start.

Try as they might, the miserable church couldn’t keep this holiest of songs buried.

And so it found it’s way in America. And a young American writer and ardent abolitionist felt that America needed these words and needed this song. For a country embroiled in sin and error pinning in slavery and oppression, John Sullivan Dwight knew this Christmas carol with the 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 brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.”

Dwight’s English translation quickly became the melody in the homes of many Americans. It both haunted and edified the country, especially during the Civil War.

Legend has it that during several wars — the Franco-Prussian War — and WWI….that Christmas Eve has seen brave soldiers jumping out of muddy trenches and begin singing “O Holy Night. The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear savior’s brith.”

History and legend tells us that the soldiers stopped fighting. Because law is love and gospel is peace.

History and legend tells us the soldiers were sent back home. Unfit for war.

Christmas Carols make us unfit for war.

In 1906, after Dwight, and Adams and Placide were all dead, Reginald Fessenden — a thirty year old professor and former chemist for Thomas Edison…broke the technology. On a December night Reginald used a new type of generator, spoke into a microphone and for the first time in history a person’s voice was broadcast live over the airwaves. He began reading: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus…..”

Radio operators on ships and wireless owners at newspapers, hearing over tiny speakers, were stunned as their transmissions were interrupted by this professor reading the Gospel and the birth of our savior.

Was this a miracle? Was this the voice of angels.

The story goes that that officers and crewmen on ships were astonished and that men and women were rushed to their wireless units to catch a Christmas Eve miracle.

And then, after he finished reading the Christmas story. A song was played over the radio. Reginald picked up his violin and played “O Holy Night.”

The first song ever sent through the air through radio waves.

It is a song first sung at a remote French Christmas mass in 1847. An indelible piece of revolutionary art that was requested by an unknown priest, penned by a poet would split the church, given a gorgeous melody by a Jewish composer, stopped battles, and brought to America shedding light of the sin of chattel slavery…all as it tells the story of the birth of our Savior, liberator, and Christ.

And on Dec 22nd, 2021 it saved my hurting heart. It reminded my soul of my own worth. And the call to love and make peace.

And on Dec 31, 2022….when the world feels weary….may it remind all of us…that holiness and salvation and liberation is born to homeless refugees, peasant and outcast shepherds, as a baby. He stops wars. He abolishes slavery. Oppression ceases in his name. May tonight be divine. Night divine.

May we tonight stand and sing of deliverance. Audaciously. As audacious as a baby savior in a manger. Sing of his power and glory. May this be the song of the people. Breaking chains. Ending slavery. Abolishing oppression.

May this song of the first Christmas miracle — our dear savior’s birth — be a miracle for you this New Year’s Eve. May the melody and the words and the story and Christ remind your soul of its worth. May you, in Christ, feel your worth.

Peuple debout, chante ta délivrance!
Noel! Noel! Chantons le Rédempteur!
Noel! Noel! Chantons le Rédempteur!

People standing, sing your deliverance!

Christmas! Christmas! Sing the Redeemer!

Christmas! Christmas! Sing the Redeemer!

And may your soul rejoice.

Peace and blessings this holiest night — this New Year’s Eve.

*Special thanks for for background information.

*Lyrical references to Les Misérables also abound.

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