Can you feel it in the air? It’s momentum as the anticipation of the holiday season builds and people begin to make plans. Decorations go up, calendars fill and some, like me, pray for snow. Many of us have waited all year for the season that makes hope contagious.
One of my favorite things about this time of year is the beginning of Advent kicking off a week long reflection on hope. Today is the first day of Advent and this evening I’ll be lighting the candle of hope. And lately, I have needed to hold on to a whole lot of hope and a decent amount of coffee.
It feels like the perfect time to hope like crazy. You know why? Because right now people around the world are celebrating Advent by lighting the first candle. And when I think about that, my heart wants to explode with hope at the magnitude of hundreds of thousands of candles interrupting darkness. We need hope to keep burning. I need hope to keep burning.
One of my favorite examples of the power of hope comes from the incredible true story of the famous and loved Christmas hymn, O Holy Night.
In 1847 in France, a young poet, Placide Cappeau, who rarely attended church, was asked by a local priest to write a Christmas poem. While on a long journey to Paris, Cappeau penned words about the birth of Jesus . He contemplated the story of the nativity and as he poured over his words, he felt inspired and hopeful. His inspiration lead him to collaborate with a famous composer, Adolphe Charles Adams, to put music to the words. Adams, who was Jewish and did not celebrate the birth of Jesus, agreed to put music to his friend’s words. Three weeks later in a small French town, Cantique Noel was sung at midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
While the song grew in popularity with the church and towns people, its popularity would be short lived with the church. When discovered that Cappeau left the church and Adams was Jewish and did not believe in Jesus, the church felt they could no longer endorse Cantique Noel. And even though the church stopped singing it, the town people continued. The song continued in popularity and spread from town to town. (Eventually the church in France would pick it back up and make it a part of their Christmas tradition.)
A decade later John Sullivan Dwight, a writer and passionate abolitionist, had the words of Cantique Noel translated to English. Dwight was eager to introduce the lyrics to Americans and was especially partial to the third 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 our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” This verse supported his passion to fight against slavery. His efforts paid off and America quickly grew to love the song.
In 1906, with composer Adams no longer alive and Cappeau and Dwight in the latter stages of life, Reginald Fessenden, a university professor and former chemist for Thomas Edison, did the impossible on Christmas Eve. With the help of a microphone and a generator, Fessenden, quoted verses of the birth of Jesus from the gospel of Luke. Ship radio operators and newspaper decoders sat stunned and mesmerized that a human voice was breaking through the air waves for the first time ever. As Fessenden finished quoting Luke, he picked up his violin and played, O Holy Night. I am sure it seemed like a Christmas miracle to the few that had access to a radio as it was not a common household item at this time.
O Holy Night became known as the very first song to ever be played on radio air waves. This historical song had its own journey of hope as people in different stages of their faith pioneered its introduction into the hearts and homes of people everywhere at Christmas.
I have been so touched to learn the powerful story behind a song I already loved. From now on, every Christmas, I will think about this song a little deeper and the people who fought to keep it alive. I think the story of this song is the perfect example of keeping hope alive in the midst of insurmountable odds or maybe our own questions of faith, doubt, disappointment, or pain. After all, hope isn’t a wish or a feeling-it’s the foundation of our faith in Jesus and the story of a baby boy who changed the course of history. And still today, His story continues to change the history of people’s lives all over the world.
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;
(Chorus) Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!O night divine! O night when Christ was born.O night, O holy night, O night divine.
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 come the wise men from Orient land,The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,In all our trials born to be our friend;
(Chorus) He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!Behold your King! your King! before him bend!
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!
(Chorus) Christ is the Lord, then ever! ever praise we!His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim! His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!
Our verse for today is Psalm 33:20-22
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
even as we put our hope in you.
One of my favorite description of Advent says, “Advent is a weary, hurting world tracing the promises of God through time.” (She Reads Truth)
I think it’s fair to say that this year, we are a weary world. And yet, we hope hard in the midst of weariness, for the promises of a good God.
We wait in hope with great expectation knowing our God is faithful, full of love, and mercy.
As we kick off a week of hope, here is my prayer for you and me.
God, I thank you for the gift of hope that we have in you. I thank you that you created us with the capacity to hope. May we find rest in the knowledge that you are faithful and you never fail us.