In 1855, pastor John Sullivan Dwight translated a popular French Christmas carol called “Cantique de Noël.” Over 150 years later, “Oh Holy Night” continues to be one of the most beloved English carols. This hymn powerfully combines rich, deep theology with a complex, moving melody that engages both the minds and hearts of its singers. Is it just me who gets emotional when I arrive at the chorus of the third verse and strive with all my might to reach those impossibly high notes in order to proclaim, “Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!”?
This song powerfully reaches our emotions because it is about redemption. Redemption means to be freed from oppression and restored to dignity and wholeness; redemption includes both rescue and restoration. The song identifies two specific forms of oppression. First, the world—both human beings and the rest of creation—suffer under the oppressive reign of sin (verse 1). Second, human beings create systems of oppression, which devalue and destroy their fellow human beings (verse 3).
These verses, just like the opening chapters of Romans, describe the human condition: as we run from God and His good ways, we become slaves to sin and, as a result, promote a cycle of oppression through the ways we malign and mistreat our fellow human beings.
But, the good news of Christmas is that our God “has seen our afflictions,” “heard our cries,” “knows our sufferings,” and “has come down to rescue us” (Exodus 3:7-8). Christmas marks the arrival of redemption: “For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” God became human in order to rescue us from our enslavement to sin and restore us to be neighbor-loving people who promote justice. Through God’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, redemption has become a reality.
Yes, redemption has arrived, the new creation has dawned, but we still hope for redemption. We still wait to experience the fullness of this reality when Jesus comes again; we “groan” for the full rescue and restoration Paul describes in Romans 8:19-25. The God who made the world, and so loved the world that He became human and died, will one day restore the world—both His people and all creation—to be the people and place He had always intended them to be.
Because redemption arrived on Christmas morning, we can confidently hope to experience full rescue and restoration when Jesus returns.