O Holy Night

Written in the mid-1800s to commemorate the renovation of an organ in a small village church in France, O Holy Night has known its fair share of popularity and controversy over the years. Did you know the music itself was written by a Jewish composer who also wrote the scores to many ballets and operas? That could be why the song can be such a challenge to those of us with average vocal ranges.

I don’t always hit the high notes perfectly, but I do love the song. It reminds me of crisp December nights and the warmth of corporate worship. Probably my favorite memory involving this song, though, happened around this time last year.

We were visiting my brother and his family in southern California. My sister-in-law interprets for the deaf and was scheduled that weekend for her monthly rotation at the church of a popular T.V. and radio preacher. We tagged along. Since the service was being recorded for an international audience, the music was outstanding and varied. Several soloists and choral groups performed that morning. Then, right before the message, a special guest soloist began to play O Holy Night on his saxophone.

As the familiar tune soared from his instrument, my attention was drawn to my sister-in-law. Since the solo was an instrumental, she could have taken a break, told her deaf audience something like “beautiful saxophone music plays” or some other line like they do with closed captioning. Instead, she began to sign the words to the song from memory. After a few lines, her deaf audience joined in.

I was mesmerized. As the rest of the congregation listened passively to the soloist, this small group in an obscure corner of the auditorium was worshipping with all their hearts. Silently, yes, but exuberantly. I could see it in their hands and on their faces. They were praising God even without hearing a single note of the music. For me, the words of that familiar song, suddenly came alive as they signed them in unison.


“ . . . 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 soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine
. . .
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 . . .”

I had tears in my eyes by the time the soloist finished the song, not because of his mastery of the music, though his performance was beautiful. No. My heart was touched most by the handful of deaf believers who didn’t let their inability to hear affect their ability to worship. Their spontaneous and honest praise reminded me that we ALL have a reason to sing.

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