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Noël: A Christmas Carol Reborn

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The English-speaking world has been robbed of much of the beauty and power of the Christmas song we know as O Holy Night.  The original French lyrics drip with the theological richness of original sin, propitiation, and above all, praise for le Rédempteur – the Redeemer. Rather than translating the text into English, American John Sullivan Dwight inserted his own Unitarian beliefs, and it is his bastardized version that we sing. For example, Dwight’s self-flattering line, “‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth” is literally, “To obliterate the original stain and appease the Father’s wrath.”  !

Working from literal translations, I’ve endeavored to restore the original meaning and feeling to this vital carol.  Some years ago when I performed it for my church, I think the congregation believed that I had written “new words” for this old tune. That wasn’t my purpose at all. My intention is to let English-speakers hear what the French have always heard when Minuit Chretien is sung not “O Holy Night,” but “Midnight, Christian;” not a song about a milquetoast Jesus and the brotherhood of man, but a testimony of the blood-drenched gospel that turns slaves of the devil into brothers of Christ Himself. It’s the only gospel that can save, but it’s often not welcome at Christmastime.

I’ve chosen to leave the French word Noël untranslated. More than just “Day of His birth” or a synonym for “Christmas,” it seems to be used in this song as a joyous proclamation – something akin to shouting, “He is born!”

May He be born in each of us.

dp  

Noël!

A more faithful translation of the French carol, Minuit Chretien

English lyrics by Dan Popp

Dark is the night in our most holy hour –

The Son of God has descended to men!

Deep is the stain that holds us in its power

But He has come as a ransom for sin!

A trembling hope lights hearts in every nation;

A newborn’s cry has ushered in the morn.

Fall on your knees!  O see the Lord’s Salvation!

Noël!  Noël!  Our Redeemer, Christ is born!

Noël!  Noël!  Our Redeemer, Christ is born!

Faith’s ardent light still leads us to a cradle,

Just as the Wise Men were led by the star.

Journeying long, they found Him in a stable:

The King of kings, helpless, humble and poor.

And from that throne ‘midst straw and stench and creatures

God bids the mighty, full of pomp and pride,

Fall on your knees!  O worship your Redeemer!

Behold your King!  Before Him lowly bend.

Behold your King!  Before Him lowly bend.

Jesus the Lord has broken ev’ry tether.

The earth is free, heaven’s doors open wide.

Once lowly slaves, He now calls us His brothers.

Freed by His love, we all stand side-by-side.

With grateful hearts we magnify His glory;

It was for us He felt sin’s mortal sting.

Stand to your feet!  The world must hear His story!

Noël!  Noël!  The Redeemer’s song we sing!

Noël!  Noël!  The Redeemer’s song we sing!

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” – Hebrews 2:14, 15, NAS95



 

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