Raise your hand if you can name the first song ever sent over the air via radio waves.
Here’s a hint: it happened Christmas Eve 1906. Reginald Fessenden picked up his violin and played its melody after reading the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. Radio operators aboard ships must have been shocked, for neither the human voice nor music had ever been transmitted this way.
Need another clue? The song’s lyrics were originally written in 1847 by a French poet named Placide Cappeau (who, incidentally, had his right hand amputated following a shooting accident at the age of eight).
Adolphe Charles Adams composed the melody. To Adams, a man of Jewish descent, the poem represented a day he didn’t celebrate and a man he did not view as the son of God. But he wrote the music anyway, at his friend’s request, and at first the song was embraced by the Catholic church. But then the original poet, Cappeau, left the church to join the Socialist movement and the church learned the composer was a Jew. They banned the song, declaring it unfit.
About ten years later, American abolitionist John Sullivan Dwight was so moved by the words of the third verse, he translated the entire song into English and published it in his magazine. If you know your Civil War history, you can see why it quickly caught on in the northern United States during that time:
“Truly He taught us to love one another,
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.”
And if you hadn’t already guessed, now you know. O Holy Night, originally called Cantique de Noel, has remained one of the most loved and most recorded Christmas carols.
Did you see the Lincoln movie that came out last year or this year’s Twelve Years a Slave? Abraham Lincoln remains a hero to many for taking the lead in abolishing slavery in America, but I can’t help thinking Lincoln would weep if he knew it has not been abolished at all. Oppression has not ceased. According to numerous reports, there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in history. Human trafficking runs rampant.
This is probably not what you wanted to read in my Christmas column. The good news is, we can make a difference and we don’t have to fight this battle alone. Numerous organizations work hard to expose and abolish human trafficking. By buying fair trade, learning more about modern slavery, spreading the word, and joining a movement such as Free the Slaves, International Justice Mission, or ServantsAnonymous (among others), you as an individual can help.
Isaiah 58:6 says this: “I’ll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused!”
DefendDignity leads a campaign to end modern day sex slavery and defend the dignity of every woman right here in Canada. I’m happy to say my church and its denomination (the Christian and Missionary Alliance) are partners of Defend Dignity.
And finally, an invitation. I hope you attend your church’s Christmas services. But if you do not have a church home, please join me and my family at mine, PortageAlliance Church, on Christmas Eve at 7:00 pm. But come early – the place packs out! Spend an hour singing carols by candlelight. You may return home with renewed perspective on the hope that is ours because of Christmas. May it truly be, for you, a Holy Night.