Sometimes the Church is so intent on being the sole bearer of God’s truth, it can throw out the gospel when it is proclaimed back to us by a non-believer. When John Wesley talked about prevenient grace, he said that there is no person alive who does not have the spark of God’s grace working within them. Even if a person chooses to never accept God’s full love for them in Christ, that person will never spend a moment in this life completely abandoned from the love of God, for God will always go before them, leading them into God’s love. This is the hope we have at Christmas time…that this grace which goes before us will truly break our chains, will truly create a brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity where wars cease, ideologies no longer supersede human rights, and community-building is never the result of tearing someone else down.
The first song to be broadcast over radio, O Holy Night, has been a crowd favorite for Celine Dion and Southpark lovers alike. The song was originally a poem by French wine merchant, Placide Cappeau. He thought it should be a song, and so he asked his friend, the Jewish composer Adolphe Charles Adams, to create an original tune. It was first sung in a French congregation on Christmas Eve 1847. The carol quickly became a French favorite, until the Catholic church discovered that Cappeau had left the faith for socialist philosophy, and Adams had never believed Jesus was the Christ. The church forbid O Holy Night from being sung in its chapels. However, the people loved it so much they continued to sing it wherever they could.
Eventually, an America abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight, heard the song and penned an English translation, making it a favorite hymn of the Union during the War of Northern Aggression (that’s what Southerner’s call the Civil War). There is a legend (almost identical to a legend about Silent Night) in which the French army began singing the song from the trenches, leading to the Germans singing back a Christmas hymn by Martin Luther, leading to 24 hours of peace between the warring armies. This is supposedly the reason the Church allowed the song to be sung again in its chapels.
In 1906, Reginald Fessenden made the first vocal radio broadcast, reading from the Gospel of Luke and performing O Holy Night on his violin, making it the first song sent by radio waves.
I can get discouraged by the constant barrage of hate coming through the mouths of Christian leaders and politicians who appeal to a large group of American Christians. The true war on Christmas is any ideology proposed in the name of Christ which would have us fear our enemies and isolate ourselves from people of difference. This week, go out there and serve alongside Jews and Muslims, make a difference in your community with the help of the poor and underprivileged. Love others hand in hand with the impure and the faithless. When the voice of the Church would stifle the gospel, it’s time for the everyday people to keep singing the right song until the Church becomes what it was meant to be…