Theology of Worship: O Holy Night

Verse 1

Oh, holy night!
The stars brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn!

Chorus: Fall on your knees.
Oh hear the angel voices.

Oh night divine.
Oh night when Christ was born.
Oh night divine.
Oh night divine.

What makes the night so holy? To know the answer to this, we need to know what night the hymn is speaking of. That holy night is, as the hymn says, “the night of the dear Saviour’s birth!” The first three lines summarise Luke 2:8-11, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” Before His birth, the world lay “in sin and error pining.” Pining means “to suffer a mental and physical decline.” Before Christ’s birth, we were declining in sin and error until “He appeared and the soul felt its worth”—that is, our undeserved worth in Christ. Once weary, we now rejoice with “a thrill of hope,” for the following morning breaks with the first day of God dwelling among us in the incarnate Christ. Therefore, as the chorus repeats after each verse, let us fall on our knees and hear the angel voices, singing with them, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). 

Verse 2

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.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). He is the light of Faith, who Himself leads us as we are to be the light of the world, shining His light toward others (Matthew 5:14-16). “Here come the wise men from Orient land,” who, “going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him” (Matthew 2:11a). Our King once lay in a manger as a tiny infant, who, unlike every other king, promises to be our Friend. For He said to His disciples, “You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15). We become His friends not through obedience, but rather because we are His friends, we cherish our relationship with Him when we obey Him. We are His friends because He has revealed to us the Father’s will, which is this: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6). Indeed, we are servants of God, but we are more closely His friends, for He has revealed to us the Father’s will: sanctification—made holy before Him in the blood of Christ and not our own worthless deeds.

Verse 3

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.

One of Jesus’ most memorable messages is to love one another. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). The Christian-to-Christian relationship is one characterised by love, not contention. If our duty as Christians is to proclaim the Gospel, how likely are people to believe the Gospel when we are hostile towards one another? Jesus did not say the world would know we are His disciples if we argue theology amongst each other (excluding heresy and false doctrine). Instead, He said the world would know we are His disciples if we have love for one another. And to go against the grain of the world, He likewise said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). Where the world says we ought to hate our enemies and kill them, Jesus says to love them and pray for them. Indeed, Christians still have difficulty with this today. I remember a time on a Facebook Christian page that said pedophiles deserve the death penalty. While pedophiles disgust me, my higher concern is that these people hear the Gospel, come to faith, and change their ways by the renewing and transforming of their mind (Romans 10:17; 12:1-2). Accordingly, I expressed the Gospel, saying as Christians we are to love our enemies and pray for them while seeking to reform their behaviour that they may know Christ, listing Scripture as evidence. Yet to my further disgust, I was met with contention and insults from these “Christians” accusing me of not caring for child victims of pedophiles. Yet loving these sad souls and praying for them is not to ignore their victims. These victims, I’m sure, receive an abundance of the Gospel. Yet what about the wicked pedophiles who receive only God’s Law and not His Gospel? For God has said, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked… and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23).

Why is God’s Law love? Psalm 19:7-9 proclaims:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is pure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.

God’s Law is perfect because it “completely recounts what the Lord has done to redeem His people” (Engelbrecht, 861). The Law works in the human mind to turn from love of self and the world to love of God. Yet it is the Gospel that brings us peace. Paul exhorts us to “put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). The Gospel prepares us for battle to stand firm in the faith against the attacks of the Devil. The firmness of the Gospel is founded on Christ. “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).

Christ breaks the chains of our slavery to sin. “He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart” (Psalm 107:14). Our oppression will end. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Therefore, let us praise Him, singing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come! …Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power” (Revelation 4:8, 11).

Bibliography

Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., et al. The Lutheran Study Bible: English Standard Version. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016.

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