Summary: Christmas is an ideal opportunity to rekindle the hope that all humankind can experience the transformation of God.


Advent 2007: “Christmas in Song and Story”

Week #1

Micah 5:2

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

Sermon Objective: Christmas is an ideal opportunity to rekindle the hope that all humankind can experience the transformation of God.

This is our first week of Advent. This year’s theme is “Christmas in Story and Song.” We will use a different Christmas Hymn/Carol each week as out theme.

In coming weeks we will look at:

• Joy to the World

• Come, O Come Emmanuel

• Come All Ye Faithful Silent Night (Christmas Eve Service)

Today’s theme is O Holy Night.


O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.

Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, the night when Christ was born;

O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.

O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,

Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.

The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;

In all our trials born to be our friends.

He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,

Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,

His power and glory ever more proclaim!

His power and glory ever more proclaim!


Most didn’t think much of the song when it was written. Not because the song itself was without merit but because they didn’t much appreciate its author. Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was a poet commissioned by a French Bishop. He was considered by many to be less-than-worthy of such a task. Some considered him profane – others thought of him as a trouble maker at best. He was indeed a social radical; known for his opposition to things like injustice, inequality, and oppression. He tended to be out spoken as I recall. This, of course, is not who the sterilized, high-brow Saints would want writing a hymn for Christmas!

Adams, the one who wrote the music to the song, was just as unqualified … he was, after all, a Jew!

The problem was that in spite of the criticism of some, the song struck a nerve with the masses. It spoke to them. And, as we now know from our Children’s story this morning, it swept across globe proclaiming the simple Gospel. To this day it is one of the world’s most favorite and familiar Christmas carols.

What some deemed profane The Heavenly Father used to glorify Himself and His son.

This should not surprise us really. God is not intimidated by the unclean. God has always cherished the opportunity to take the secular and sanctify it – to set it apart and qualify it for his service. All through Scripture this has been the divine modus operandi. Moses’ staff, Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22), Jacob, Abraham … and the list goes on and on of those who were less-than-qualified but found themselves and vessels for the Divine One’s work.

It was, after all, God who said `What God did cleanse, … declare not thou common;’ (Acts 10:15 YLT)

But this is Christmas! We are talking about the incarnation when we talk of Christmas! This is one of the most holy events in History. Surely it is different. Right?

Nope … Christmas (the incarnation) is all about God disclosing to humankind what he is really like. The incarnation shows us what God is and what God’s priorities are … that is central to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

• In John 1:14 the Bible says The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

• In Hebrews 1:3 the Bible says: The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…

Christmas it is a perfect opportunity for God to show us how much he loves to transform the secular into the sacred.

LET’S THINK ABOUT BETHLEHEM FOR A MOMENT. It was transformed. You wouldn’t know it from the world’s vantage point. However, look at what Scripture says:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel." (Matthew 2:6)

Bethlehem is first noticed in Scripture as the place associated with Rachel’s death and burial "by the wayside" (Gen. 48:7).

The truth is Bethlehem was a little backwater commercial town. And where there is commerce – there is corruption. It wasn’t a metropolis and it wasn’t on the “top ten list of places you’d want to live.”

Bethlehem was blue collar. It was poorly built, small (even today it is just a little bigger than Potsdam), and of no great importance. Bethlehem was a difficult existence. If God was going to bring a King you’d think he’d choose a city or place known for it religiosity and pomp; Jerusalem, Athens maybe, even Caesarea Philippi, Cairo maybe, or Babylon … but not Bethlehem!

But God loves to use the common things in life. He loves to use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). He gets special pleasure from it. He gets honor from it.

WHILE WE ARE AT IT … WHAT ABOUT THE MANGER ITSELF? The manger was transformed. But you wouldn’t have known it if you saw it “yesterday” … it was just a stable! If it had not been for the presence of God we would have never known about this little stable. It would have passed into history without so much as a footnote. But when God arrives everything changes … even little feed troughs become sacred and have a divine purpose!

Luke 2:12 says And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger (KJV). This little feed trough, in this little stinky stable, becomes a sign post for seekers of the Messiah. Now that’s prominence! But you wouldn’t know it by looking at it would you? It’s just a stable.

But God loves to use the common things in life. God loves to chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27).

I know you have caught on by now. It should not surprise us that God used a less-than-qualified poet or a less-than-approved composer to write such a sacred song. God loves to take the common and use it for His glory!

HOW ABOUT THAT HOPELESS SINNER YOU KNOW WHO BECAME A NEW MAN OR A NEW WOMAN? There was a time when they could not be seen for what they really were either. Only God knew their value.

Aren’t YOU glad that YOU had a yet-to-be-disclosed future?

You see, that is what Christmas is really about … REDEMPTION … reclaiming that which was lost.

Never forget:


The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)


People change. They can be transformed. That is the hope and the power of the Gospel. “With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)


As believers, we must never put a period on the end of a sentence. We must put a comma and let God finish. Do not be too quick to come to any conclusions about someone or something. Remain open to divine possibilities.

When the Lord is in something anything is possible. ANYTHING! Just ask that handful of disciples who saw their Lord crucified, only to find Him risen three days later. They ended up turning the world upside down. Who would have thought that could happen?

No one but God.

• Take a look at your spiritual family setting around you. Go ahead – look at them. When you think of them, never place a period at the end of the thought, place a comma there and let God finish His work.

• Think of those you work with; do not place a period at the end of their lives … use a comma and let God finish the His work.

• Look in the mirror. Remember, what you see does not have a period placed at the end of it – only a comma. God is still finishing His work!

And always remember, `What God did cleanse, … declare not thou common;’ (Acts 10:15 YLT)

We will end this sermon with communion … recognizing that it the body and blood of our Lord can (and has) reclaimed that which was profane, secular, and common … namely YOU!

This sermon is provided by Dr. Kenneth Pell

Potsdam Church of the Nazarene

Potsdam, New York


A French bishop described “O Holy Night” soon after its publication as having a “lack of musical taste and total absence of the spirit of religion.” Fortunately, people didn’t take his criticism to heart, and this carol has earned its place as a Christmas classic. The poetry and music infuse the beauty and magnificence of the first Christmas with new meaning.

Adolphe Charles Adam, who also composed the ballet Giselle, wrote the music for “O Holy Night.” Despite disapproval from the church, Adam enlisted the help of his friend, poet Cappeau de Roquemaure, who wrote the original words, entitled “Cantique de Noel.”

Much later, an American, John Sullivan Dwight, translated the carol into the words we sing today.

The strange and fascinating story of “O Holy Night” began in France, yet eventually made it way around the world. This seemingly simple song, inspired by a request from a clergyman, would not only become one of the most beloved anthems of all time, it would mark a technological revolution that forever change the way people were introduced to music.

In 1847, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was the commissionaire of wines in a small French town. Known more for his poetry that his church attendance, it probably shocked Placide when his parish priest asked the commissionaire to pen a poem for Christmas mass. Nevertheless, the poet was honored to share his talent with the church.

In a dusty coach traveling down a bumpy road to France’s capitol city, Cappeau considered the priests request. The poem obviously had to be religious, focus on Christmas, and be based on Scripture. Using the gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Thoughts of being present on the blessed night inspired him. By the time the commissionaire arrived in Paris, the poem “Cantique de Noel” had been completed.

Moved by his own words, Cappeau determined that his “cantique de Noel” was not just a poem, but a song in need of a master’s musician’s hand. Not musically inclined himself, the poet turned to one of this friends, Adolphe Charles Adams, for help.

Adolphe, born in 1803, was five years older than Cappeau. The son of a well-known classical musician, Adolphe had studied at the Paris Conservatoire. By 1829, he had produced his first one-act opera, Pierre et Catherine. He followed this success with Richard en Palestine. Adams then scored acclaim with ballets such as Faust, La Fille du Danube, and La Jolie Fille de Grande. His talent and fame brought requests to write works for orchestra and ballets all round the world. Yet the lyrics that his friend Cappeau gave him must have challenged the composer in a fashion unlike anything he had received from London, Berlin or St. Petersburg,

As Adolphe studied “Cantique de Noel,” he couldn’t help but note it overly spiritual lyrics embracing the birth of a Savior. A man of Jewish ancestry, these words represented a holiday he didn’t celebrate and a man he did not view as the Son of God. Nevertheless, moved by more than friendship, Adams quickly and diligently went to work, attempting to marry an original score to Cappeau’s beautiful words. Adams finished work pleased both poet and priest. It was performed just three weeks later at a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Neither the wine commissionaire nor the composer was prepared for what happen next.

Initially, “Cantique de Noel” was wholeheartedly accepted by the church in France and the song quickly found its way into various Catholic Christmas services. But when Placide Cappeau walked away from the church and became a part of the socialist movement, and the church leaders discovered that Adolphe Adams Jewish heritage, the song – which had quickly grown to be on of the most beloved Christmas songs in France – was suddenly and uniformly denounced by the church. The heads of the French Catholic Church of the time deemed “Cantique de Noel” as unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and “total absence of the spirit of religion.” Yet even as the church tried to bury the Christmas song, the French people continued to sing it, and a decade later a reclusive American write brought it to a whole new audience halfway around the world.

Born May 13, 1813, In Boston, John Sullivan Dwight was a graduate of Harvard College and Divinity School. He became a Unitarian minister in Northampton, Mass., but for inexplicable reasons grew physically ill each time he had to address his congregation. These panic attacks magnified to such an extent that Dwight often locked himself in his home, scared to venture out in public! It soon became obvious he would be unable to continue in the ministry.

Gifted and bright, Dwight sought other ways to use his talent. An accomplished writer, he used his skills to found Dwight’s Journal of Music. For three decades he quietly edited the publication. Although, he couldn’t face crowds of people, some of the most gifted musicians and music lovers in the Northeast were inspired by his confident writing. As he looked for new material to review, Dwight read “Cantique de Noel” in French. The former minister quickly fell in love with the carols’ haunting lyrics.

Not only did Dwight feel that this wonderful Christmas song needed to be introduced to America, he saw something else in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An ardent abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines, “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!” The text supported Dwight’s own view of slavery in the South. The writer believed that Christ came to free all men, and in this song all men would be confronted with the fact. Keeping the original meaning intact, Dwight translated the lyrics into a hauntingly beautiful English text. Published in his magazine and in several song books of the period, “O Holy Night,” quickly found favor in America, especially in the North during the Civil War.

Back in France, even though the song had been banned from the church for almost two decades, many commoners still sang “Cantique de Noel” at home. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between the armies of Germany and France during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench. Both sides stared at the seemingly crazed man. Boldly standing with no weapon in his hands or at his side, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang, “Minuit, chrétiens, C’est l’heure solennelle Où l’Homme Dieu decendit jusu’à nous,” the beginning of “Cantique de Noel.”

After completing all three verses, a German infantryman climbed out of his hiding place and answered with. “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her. Ich bring’ euch gute neue Mär, Der guten Mär bring’ ich so viel. Davon ich sing’n und sagen will,” the beginning of Martin Luther’s robust “From Heaven above to Earth I come.”

The story goes that the fighting stopped for the next 24 hours while the men on both sides observed a temporary peace in honor of Christmas Day. Perhaps this story had a part in the French church once again embracing “Cantique de Noel” as being worthy of inclusion in holiday services.

Adams had been dead for many years and Cappeau and Dwight were old men when on Christmas Day 1906, Reginald Fessenden – a 33 year old university professor in Pittsburgh and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison – did something long thought impossible. Using a new type of generator, Fessenden spoke into a microphone and, for the first time in history, a man’s voice was broadcast over the airwaves: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed,” he began in a clear, strong voice, hoping he was reaching across the distances he supposed he would.

Shocked radio operators on ships and astonished wireless owners at newspapers sat slacked jawed as their normal, coded impulses, heard over tiny speakers, were interrupted by a professor reading from the gospel of Luke. To the few who caught this broadcast, it must have seemed like a miracle – hearing a voice somehow turned into electrical waves and transmitted to those far away. Some might have believed they were hearing the voice of an angel.

Fessenden was probably unaware of the sensation he was causing on ships and in offices; he couldn’t know that men and women were rushing to their wireless units to catch this Christmas Eve miracle. Yet after finishing his recitation of the birth of Christ, Fessenden picked up his violin and played “O Holy Night,” the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves. When the carol ended, so did the broadcast – but not before music had found anew medium that would take it around the world.

Since that first rendition at a small Christmas mass in 1847, “O Holy Night” has been sung millions of times in churches in every corner of the world. And since the moment a handful of people first heard it played over the radio, the carol has gone on to become one of the entertainment industry’s most recorded and plated spiritual songs. Total sales for the thousand of different versions of the carol are in the tens of millions.. this incredible work – requested by a forgotten parish priest, written by a poet who would later split from the church, given soaring music by a Jewish composer, and brought to Americans to serve as much as a tool to spotlight the sinful nature of slavery as tell the story of the birth of a Savior – has grown to become one of the most beautiful, inspired pieces of music ever created.

This sermon is provided by Dr. Kenneth Pell

Potsdam Church of the Nazarene

Potsdam, New York