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The Meaning Behind Classic Christmas Carols - O Holy Night

This is the last post in my series, "The Meaning Behind Classic Christmas Carols", and I have learned so much! This post is going to be no different - I'm so excited to dive into this beautiful Christmas carol and the true meaning behind it.

O Holy Night was written by Placide Cappeau, who was actually an atheist, and composed by Adolphe Adams, a Jew. This song was not well-loved for a long time, and the Catholic church attempted to "bury it", not only due to its origins but its supposed lack of musical flavor. It became more popular in America during the Civil War. This Christmas carol may have one of the most interesting histories, which I never knew before, and I'm super excited to learn about how this background deepens the message of this beautiful song.

O holy night! the stars are brightly shining;

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Till He appeared 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!

O night, O holy night, O night divine!

This first verse describes with incredible imagery the night of Jesus' birth. Cappeau illustrates the bright stars of that night, but emphasizes the spiritual impact of Jesus' arrival. The reality of the sinful state that this broken world was stuck in before the Savior came is an important part of this verse, because Cappeau carefully describes the before and after effect of Jesus, as some of the other songs had done. Before, the world was drowning in sin and wickedness, and then Jesus came, and hope appeared. A humble worship arises, according to Cappeau, because of the magnitude of this Savior.

The phrase that really grabs my attention out of this verse is "the soul felt its worth". The soul felt the worth of Jesus' birth. That is so beautiful to me, because how true it is. We were created to crave and desire God, and when God met us in all of our brokenness, and all of our sin, and all of our shame, our soul, the inner, intimate part of our being felt that. It was evident that Jesus was the Savior, because even when we tried to deny it, we knew that something was different about Him.

This is also true even now that Jesus isn't on this earth in a physical form. We can distinguish when we have experienced an experience with the Lord because His presence is so powerful. His majesty and love is indescribable - yet undeniable. You cannot ignore an encounter with Jesus, because our very soul is transformed by His simple word or touch. On a casual note, it makes me think about the imprinting that happens in Twilight. When you imprint on someone, you never go back to being the same, and similarly, when you experience Jesus, you'll never be the same. You can try, and you can choose to go back to sinful ways, but your soul knows.

Because we'll never be the same, we go on to worship and praise, falling our knees in humble adoration, because this Savior is our only hope for reconciliation with God Himself, and He chose to pave the way for that. He is our redemption, and the reality of that should move us to worship Him like never before.

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,

Here came the Wise Men from Orient land.

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!

Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!

This song continues to describe the Christmas night in such an elegant way. "With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand" is a mention of the true transformation that Christ has on our souls. In the same way that Moses walked away with a glowing face after seeing God, we walk away with glowing hearts after meeting Jesus and knowing His character, because He simply brings joy and peace.

The wise men and their journey to the manger are mentioned as well. Jesus is referred to as the "King of kings", because even as a baby, that is who He is. The wise men, sometimes also called kings, knew the importance of the birth of this child, because He is the King above all kings, God in the flesh, and the one who came to save us all.

This verse goes on to explain what this means for us. He is the King, but He is also our friend in our moments of struggle and weakness. He knows our need, because alongside being the King and our friend, He is human, and He has experienced all the trials of our worldly flesh. He can relate to us in a way no other god can, and that is yet another reason why He deserves all of our praise and adoration.

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.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!

His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

This final verse is the perfect practical application. Because Jesus is who He is, we are to love one another (that's the second greatest commandment, by the way). He fulfills the Old Testament laws, and the new laws He establishes are out of love for us, so that we can walk alongside Him in holiness and righteousness. The "good news" or Gospel of Jesus brings an incredible peace and joy, and because of who He is and what He has done on the cross, the chains of sin and death are broken. Satan no longer has any power over us, because through the Holy Spirit, He who is in us is greater than who he is in the world.

And again, because Jesus is who He is, we are moved to praise Him with humble adoration. He is the Lord, and so along with all of nature, we will worship His name forever.


This song is so beautiful and has always been one of my favorites, but I love it even more after breaking it down and discovering what the lyrics really mean. This series has been such a fun one, and I'm so grateful for all that the Lord has taught me as I've created it! It is my prayer that you not only learned a lot as well, but that you feel closer to God and have cultivated a heart of intentional praise as well.

What was your favorite song in this series? Do you have any post recommendations for the new year? Let me know down in the comments below!



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