ADVENT: JOY - Pastor Curtis Zackery
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, many Christians around the world join in the celebration of Advent. Advent is the anticipation of the arrival of Christ and a time of preparation to celebrate His birth. Today, our focus will be on the joy we find in Advent.
Curtis Zackery is a pastor, speaker, father, and husband and he shares the origin of the classic Christmas song, “O Holy Night”. You will never look at it the same way again.
CZ has always loved this song and was drawn to the rich lyrics and moving message. One year he dug into the history and discovered a story that amazed him.
In the late 1800’s there was a parish priest in southern France who wanted to make an impact on his parishioners by celebrating Jesus birth in a creative way for the local Christmas service. He enlisted a friend who was a poet, Placide Cappeau, to write something to share. This poet wasn’t a believer, but he poured over Luke 2 and translated the story of Jesus’ birth into a profoundly beautiful and artistic poem. It made such a connection with the people, Capeau found a composer to set it to music. Now, this composer, Adolphe Adam, was Jewish and didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah but he wrote a powerful accompaniment. So, ironically, while the idea came from a priest who loved his city and wanted them to know Jesus, neither of the two creators were Christians even though the song centers on Jesus’ birth.
From these unconventional beginnings, this song was born. It began to move through France as people shared it country wide. In America, a Unitarian minister, John Sullivan Dwight collected music from around the world to put them into “Dwight’s Almanac of Music” that he distributed here. Dwight was also very passionate about abolitionism and wanted to see slavery end in America. When he heard “O Holy Night” and translated the lyrics, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother”, he was deeply moved, and wanted to share the song even more.
Back in France, the song was spreading like wildfire but people began protesting because Adolphe Adam was Jewish. This scandal reveals the sadness of humanity throughout the course of history. Even as the song’s message was advancing the story of Jesus, people got in the way of it. Also ironic and telling, is that the banning of the song increased its circulation and it became even more well known and well loved.
Not long after, Reginald Fessenden, a chemist associated with Thomas Edison began working to try to send voice over radio waves. In 1906, he gets in front of a microphone and realizes it is working - his voice is being broadcast through this device! He gets so taken aback he didn’t know what to say or do but, in the moment, he grabs his Bible and begins reading Luke 2 and then plays “O Holy Night” on the violin. So, the very first song that was broadcast live was this beautiful message of how God sent his son to earth to save us.
What strikes CZ most about the origin and spread of this beautiful Christmas song is how God works, and is still working today. God moves in unexpected ways through unlikely people to send His message of love and salvation to the world. Even amidst the controversy of how it was written and the politics of church and government at the time, the song continues to have an impact. The lyrics in their full and pure form continue to call people to fall on their knees and worship Christ.
This song is a beautiful illustration of how God uses misfits to share His love with the world including a non-believing poet and a Jewish composer that didn’t accept him as Messiah. Yet, they were powerfully used by a God who loves us so deeply He finds ways to communicate the good news of Jesus’ birth far and wide.
The lyrics to the song are so profound- talking about loosening chains, setting people free, and falling on our knees – to encompass the gamut of our human condition being intersected by God. The song captures the full message of the gospel. It tells the story of God becoming human. Without God becoming human he could not die a death on the cross to cover our sins. Jesus came to do a work that no other human could do. He came to save us and in that promise we can find joy.
CZ shares that the lyrics that are compelling to him is “a thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.” It isn’t easy to rejoice given all the things that are hard in our world. As single parents, it can be more difficult to find that joy. We are already fighting and struggling to provide what our kids need for stability and health. The holidays accentuate those hardships and discrepancies when our kids don’t have both mom and dad in the same home and when we cant provide all the gifts we want to give. Not only can we not do that regularly throughout the year but it can seem even more unbalanced at Christmas.
CZ shares that at a certain point we each must realize that this world, even with all of its trappings and glamor, will never satisfy the longing of our souls. There is a desperate cry within each one of us that needs a Savior. Even if we as parents could provide all the things our kids want, or that we want too, those things cannot fill the empty places in our hearts. What our hearts truly need is Jesus. The source of hope we need is knowing Him. There is nothing anyone can give us that will provide fulfillment or wholeness in brokenness. Only Jesus can bring a “thrill of hope” and light in the middle of darkness. He can bring relief to our sense of being weary and overwhelmed. He can fill the empty places in our hearts. He can bring joy even in tough seasons. This is the hope of Advent.
MERRY CHRISTMAS FRIENDS!!!
OUR CURRENT FAVORITE VERSION OF THE SONG - HERE - O Holy Night (feat.Tauren Wells & SVRCINA) – Tommee Profitt
Follow Curtis Zackery on Instagram @whoiscz.
I found this Canadian website that shares the details of that first radio broadcast and has the audio. Professor Fessenden was Canadian. I was intrigued enough to check for more information about him because I had just finished a college course on wireless security and didn’t recall his name coming up in then historical introduction on wireless communication. It’s amazing how one song about Jesus’ birth can pull together religion/faith, politics, and science and used to advance His kingdom.