“A Thrill of Hope” Dec. 2, 2018
“A Thrill of Hope”
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining, It is the night of our dear Saviour’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.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
I believe, whether we care to admit it or not, that every one of us has a favorite Christmas carol or hymn or song. “O Holy Night” has got to be mine. But you know, for the life of me, I can’t explain why. It has all the ingredients that I usually try to avoid. It’s drippy and schmaltzy with old world lyrics sang to a grandiose melody that can only be pulled off by the likes of Pavarotti or Josh Groban. But I can’t help it, it gets me every time. So I set out to understand why; what is it about “O Holy Night” that touches folks on such a deep and personal level?
Come to find out, the carol we know as “O Holy Night” started out as a poem. You see, in the mid 1800’s, the church in the little town of Roquemaure, France had just renovated their organ and to celebrate this glorious event, the parish priest asked a local wine merchant and poet by the name of Placide Cappeau to write a Christmas poem. Evidently, that’s how things were done in those days – you tune the piano, you write a song. Now at this point, I was totally intrigued especially after learning that our local wine merchant and occasional poet had never shown any interest in religion at all, as far as anyone could tell. But he agreed to write this poem to celebrate the newly renovated organ and it wasn’t long before the poem “Minuit Chretiens” or Midnight Christians was set to music by a certain Adolphe Adam. It was premiered in little Roquemaure in 1847 by the opera singer Emily Laurey and the rest is, as they say, history. It was later in 1855 that the Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight translated the song into the English lyrics that we know today. How about that; and just think – it all started because the organ at the church broke down.
Now ordinarily, if you want to tarnish something beautiful – take the shine off the apple, if you will – the best way to do that is to study it to death: to analyze and criticize and cauterize until the magic just disappears. And I thought that would be the case with the wine merchant and never religious poet from Roquemaure. I thought for sure that the more I knew about this guy, the less credible Placide Capeau would be. But that didn’t happen. Instead, it got me to thinking. It got me to thinking about inspiring moments and inspired words. And it got me to thinking of how God comes to us from the most unlikely places and through the most unlikely people. From a wild eyed baptizer named John to the kind eyes of a Sunday school teacher who wouldn’t give up on me, God comes to us. From the great speakers and preachers to the quiet lovers of my soul, God comes to us. From a young girl in an arranged marriage to an older man, God does indeed come to us.
When Placide Capeau was asked to write a poem to commemorate the newly renovated organ at the cathedral in the little town of Roquemaure, France he didn’t draw upon his vast knowledge of scripture. He didn’t hold the words of the prophets in front of him – words of promise, words of fulfillment- that God would cause a righteous branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in all the land. Placide Capeau didn’t spend hours in prayer looking to be inspired with the perfect words to describe the most perfect act of love ever known: that God would come here to be among us in the flesh. Placide Capeau was never a religious man. He was a wine merchant with a poet’s heart. I’d like to read to you now the literal English translation of Capeau’s poem entitled “Midnight, Christians.” It doesn’t rhyme and it wouldn’t sing very well, and surely things get lost in translation, but I believe that God touched this poet’s heart in the same way that he touches ours: with hope, with a thrill of hope.
“Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour, when God as man descended onto 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.
People, kneel down, await your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer.”
We are in the season of Advent, the time of waiting for the coming of Christ, the time that we await our deliverance. Let us rejoice because this is the one thing that bonds us together: our hope, the thrill of hope that a savior comes to this weary world.
Amen & Shalom