From the Pastor’s Heart

Recognizing newsletter deadlines, once again, I have the peculiar task of writing a Christmas message even before I’ve worked up an appetite for Thanksgiving turkey. So, to get in the mood for the season I’m playing Christmas music on the computer as I write. Most of us have our favorite Christmas song and I am no different. My favorite is O Holy Night. I love this song and it never gets old.

Many of my favorite artists have recorded O Holy Night. There are dozens of renditions that will literally bring a tear to my eye. Like so many, I get caught up in the emotional response to beautiful music played by amazing musicians or sung by gifted vocalists. Throughout my years as pastor, members of previous congregations have given their renditions of this beloved song, only to reduce their pastor to tears of joy as they offered their gift. You may wonder what it is about this song that solicits such a reaction for me. Truly, beautiful as it is, it is not the melody. O Holy Night captivates me so because of its message. The words speak so strongly to the power of God’s love.

In 1847, a priest commissioned Frenchman Placide Cappeau to write a poem for the Christmas mass. He knew this poem would be central to the priest’s proclamation so it must be scriptural and reverent. The poem would have to speak to the struggle of our human condition and at the same time declare the hope of God’s people fulfilled through the birth of the Christ child. Turning to Luke’s gospel, Cappeau imagined what it might have been like to witness the birth of Christ on the holiest of nights. Cappeau’s poem speaks of a night extraordinarily different than most. The sky was so clear that the stars seemed to shine brighter than ever before. The opening of the song leads us into this same vision:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
this is the night, of our dear Savior’s birth!

We’ve all witnessed Christmas nights such as this. Yet, we realize that even at Christmas, the world is still filled with difficulties and challenges . There is a reason God came to earth in human form. Our world is one bent on disobedience, selfishness, and anger. Each week, as we confess our sins we admit our part in the world’s calamity.

We cannot pretend that God is not privy to the instances where we have not kept his commandments. We cannot live as though he has not seen the wrongs we’ve done toward one another. Even the most faithful among us has sinned against God and against a neighbor. Yet, there is hope, and this is where O Holy Night gets my full and complete attention. Cappeau writes:

Long lay the world, in sin and error pining;
Till he appeared and the soul felt his worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices;
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

God has kept his promise to save his people; he has sent his Son, the child of Mary to be Savior and Lord. Cappeau offered his congregation a declaration of God’s grace and forgiveness made possible through the life, death and resurrection of a single child born on that holy night. Just as he was born in humility, Jesus would also humbly endure the burden of shame brought about the world’s sin. The message of O Holy Night proclaims the powerful truth of God’s salvation made known as the King of Glory makes his entrance into the world for the sake of all humanity. This is no ordinary child. This is no ordinary night. This Christmas, as I have and always will, I invite you all to worship with me and the rest of your church family on the holiest of nights. Come hear the message of God’s grace as we remember how our Savior and Lord breaks into our time a space yet once more. Hear the words of the gospel and realize the thrill of God’ssaving grace.

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!

Grace to you and peace, this Christmas,
Pastor David Nuottila
From the Pastor’s Heart