During the advent season, when Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus, there’s one song that is often sung by churches, choirs, and soloists—telling the story of the incarnation of Jesus with brilliant words and stunning musical arrangement that often stands out among the other carols and Christmas hymns. Originally known by its French name, “Cantique de Noël” (meaning “song of Christmas”), the song “O Holy Night” remains a favorite song of the Christmas season.
Perhaps you never knew the story of this well known carol that was penned by a nominal Catholic and the music arranged by a reluctant Jew—for a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. You might not have known of the controversy the song created in France when the author left the Catholic Church resulting in it being banned before it eventually made its way to the United States. You also might not have known that this song was the very first song to be played across the radio airwaves in world history on December 24th 1906. Even with all of this history, perhaps you have overlooked something else in the song, namely a message nestled within the third stanza that deserves our attention.
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
It is no secret that today’s evangelical church, especially in America, is greatly divided over the social justice movement’s methods and message. Rather than promoting love and peace, the social justice movement breeds resentment, animosity, and division. Social justice by default flows out of a long history of postmodernism and with a functional goal of deconstruction—the movement itself demands reparations rather than forgiveness, penance rather than repentance, and social activism rather than unity in gospel transformation.
This beloved carol was introduced to America during a time of division over slavery. The third stanza spoke the truth with poetic power and moved the hearts of people. It was a needed message during a time of great division and darkness in our nation’s history. Indeed, in Jesus we learn what true love is—sovereign love, servant love, and saving love.
The devil is quite crafty and uses something as shallow as skin color to divide people from one another. This has been the case all throughout human history. Sadly, the world and the church are both tempted to find answers to brokenness through social justice rather than the gospel of Jesus. This leads to a hyper-focus on social activism, marches, tearing down statues of historic figures, burning historic flags, and demanding change that’s focused on the shallowness of skin color rather than the heart, the mind, and the actual abilities that people are gifted with.
Social justice, being a rather complex movement, is not only focused on ethnic division, but also on areas such as the roles and responsibilities of men and women in the home, the society, and the local church. Rather than celebrating the roles of both men and women as image bearers of God in this world and within the local church—social justice demands equality of roles and functions—something that God never intended. The social justice message creates bitterness rather than love, division rather than unity, and chaos rather than peace. Looking for freedom in a world of brokenness—advocates of social justice become slaves to ideas, methods, and ultimately doctrines that flow out of the pages of postmodernism rather than sacred Scripture. This is not the message of love nor will it lead people to peace.
Today, we are experiencing much chaos as the social justice train continues to roll through denominations, institutions, organizations, and local churches. We are witnessing a unique and trying time in our history where longtime friendships are being severed and denominations are being stressed to the point of implosion. It seems that there is no light at the end of this long tunnel.
As we consider our current place in human history and within the history of the church, we must keep our eyes fixed on Christ. The birth of Jesus was promised in the midst of chaos (Gen. 3:15). All throughout human history, God would often remind people of the coming of Christ in the midst of turmoil and chaos as was the case when the prophet Isaiah penned his promise of hope. When people needed hope—God pointed them to the birth of a King, but not just any king. The prophet writing 700 years before the birth of Jesus pointed the people to the one who would bring true justice and eternal peace.
Nestled in this famous carol is the promise of Isaiah 9:6. While we look back at the birth of Jesus, we must remember that as the prophet wrote Isaiah 9:6 long before Jesus’ birth, he didn’t stop in Bethlehem. He looked beyond, to a day in which Christ would usher in his visible Kingdom and upon his return would rule with perfect justice and ultimate peace. When Christ returns, all oppression shall cease. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord upon his return, and all forms of sinful oppression will be no more.
Only in Jesus will ethnic division among Jew and Gentile be settled. Only in Jesus will ethnic pride and divisive racism be swallowed up in victory. Our hope for a world without division, chaos, bitterness, pride, and confusion over our roles and responsibilities as men and women will only be realized fully when Christ returns and makes all things new.
Until then, we look back to Jesus’ birth with joyful hearts and long for the day of hope when our King shall descend in radiant splendor. Come Lord Jesus!