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Incarnation Hymnody: "O Holy Night"

Over the years, I’ve become hesitant to sing “O Holy Night,” a Christmas song widely used as a solo because of its dramatic nature and vocal difficulty.  Our common English translation is by John S. Dwight, a rather loose translation (so I understand) of the French Cantique de Noel .  Dwight was at various times in his life a Unitarian minister, a leader at the Trancendentalist Brook Farm, and the man largely responsible for popularizing Beethoven in America (see his bio here).  His interests and theology are, I suspect, reflected in places in his version of the song, with its emphases.  I’m particularly leery about the line “Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth,” and not too excited about “His gospel is peace” (given Dwight’s background).

A more direct translation of (at least a portion of) the original French Cantique de Noel is suggested here:

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,
When God-man descended to us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.

People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

May the ardent light of our Faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Guided the Oriental kings there.
The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,

It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

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About Chuck Bumgardner

I seek to be a student of the Scriptures — New Testament in particular — and also have a deep love for the praise of God through music in the church. I have at the present time the privilege of overseeing the music and leading the singing in my local church, a ministry which brings me great joy and provides a God-ordained outlet for my musical energies. I've enjoyed serving in music-related areas in the church since high school — some 25 years now — as a vocalist, choir member, choir director, and congregational songleader. In addition to serving as a member — and for a time as an assistant pastor — in various local churches, I've also had the privilege of traveling during my college years to many churches throughout the United States and Canada as part of a vocal ensemble. I hunger to see, both in my own church and beyond, an increased appreciation for the great historic music of the church in which theologically rich texts are wedded to music which provides an appropriate setting for those texts, and through which our affections are turned toward God. I'm also eager to see new contributions to the rich heritage of Christian music which share in the same characteristics.

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