The carol that has become the closing highlight of our Candlelight service is “O Holy Night.” This carol was introduced to the United States in 1855 by the Unitarian minister and music critic John Sullivan Dwight. The third verse, which I shall not sing, says, “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.”
Truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love and his gospel is peaceJohn Sullivan Dwight
And in his name all oppression shall cease, not just some, or in certain parts, but all oppression shall cease. This line made O Holy Night an anthem for abolitionists and was sung in churches across the North, including St. George’s Church, throughout the year during the Civil War. However, in light of everything going on in the world, one must ask the question, really? What is this all about? Isn’t this all just warm and fuzzy sentimentalism. What are we actually remembering? All oppression shall cease, have you read the papers, do you know my boss, have you met my in-laws, have you met my kids (I am not talking about your kids).
The answer to the question what is this all about? The answer to what we are actually remembering is this: A word. Through lesson and carol, we have heard a word of hope, often times despite all evidence to the contrary. St. Paul tells us in Romans 8, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see we wait for it with patience” (v 24-25).
This word of hope, which we have heard so beautifully this evening, is not a matter of temperament, nor is it conditioned by our prevailing circumstances or any human possibilities. It does not depend upon what you posses, upon what you may be able to do for yourself, your ability to change the world or even what you may be able to do for God. This word of hope is not dependent on us. Rather this word of hope is found outside of us.
hope is found outside of us
You see ultimately hope, produces trust, as Christians we call this faith, and faith just doesn’t come out of thin air, but depends on something or someone to break into our existence and change our normal course of events. What we remember tonight is that this has happened when the word of hope became flesh- the infinite becoming for our sake temporal in this Christ Child Jesus- who would become the man on the cross dying for our sins, so that we who are temporal, might become infinite. This word of Hope creates within us a trust/faith that pulls us out of our present and enables us to long for his future for us, an age to come where the slave becomes truly our brother and sister, and all oppression will truly cease.
What we remember tonight is that hope is not a choice or a goal, but it is actually gift, something you receive from God, for it is all God’s gift given to each and every one of you.
I’ll wrap up with this, when I was a little kid, my parents would stash the presents all over the house so that my siblings and I wouldn’t open them. When Christmas came one of those gifts was overlooked. The gift was given, it was all there, it even came with batteries, but I didn’t discover what I already had, until that summer.
During this Advent and Christmas season, let me encourage you with the fact that you have already received the most wonderful gift from God, a gift we so often overlook, himself, his son Jesus Christ. And from God that gift speaks over us, I love you, I have forgiven you, and I despite the oppression you may experience, I am with you always. In that gift you are given hope to know, despite our prevailing circumstances, you are loved by God perfectly and that even you are not to far from his loving and merciful embrace.
Have a very Happy Advent, a Merry Christmas and God Bless You All!
Fr. Jacob Smith is the Priest-in-Charge of the Parish of Calvary-St. George’s in New York City and in a regular contributor to Emmaus via Canterbury.