“Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease”

Christmas Eve

Beautiful piano music is flowing around me as I sit a big, comfy chair in a cafe this Christmas Eve, watching the raincreate little rivers down the window pane with the lights of a Christmas tree bouncing back at me. The song is a familiar one during the holiday season and even though it is currently playing devoid of lyrics, my mind easily fills in the blanks.

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear saviours birth…”

Since I began my journey into abolition, this song, ‘O Holy Night’ has had an incredible impact on me. My breath catches in my throat every time that I sing the final verse,

“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.”

All oppression – Can I truly sing those words and believe that on a holy night over 2000 years ago, the One who can bring an end to all oppression was born? The One whose law is that of love, the One who declares peace and who gives each of us the authority to declare freedom to the slave; because they are our equals, and even more then equal, they are our brothers and sisters.

The optimism declared in this Christmas carol is unprecedented, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

The instructions are almost uncomfortable… “Fall on your knees! Hear the angels voices! O night divine, the night when Christ was born!”

The promise is a flood of acceptance, “The King of kings lay thus lowly manger; In all our trials born to be our friendsHe knows our need, our weakness is no stranger.”

Christmas is a hard reminder for me, often it means being back home and looking at the brokenness in my own home life, it means remembering failures of the past year and seeing the times when I was weak, when I was lonely, and when I wished for many of the hard circumstances to reach a place of resolution.

Today I read a post on the back story of O Holy Night (originally French hymn Cantique de Noel), in light of the difficulties life sometimes throws us, one particular part of the story moved me deeply:

“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 hand or at his side, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang, “Minuit, Chretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle ou L’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’a nous,” the beginning of “Cantique de Noel.” (O Holy Night)

After completing all three verses, a German infantryman climbed out his hiding place and answered with,”Vom Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her. Ich bring’ euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar 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 twenty-four hours while the men on both sides observed a temporary peace in honor of Christmas day.”

A beautiful picture of the power of the words explored above.

If you are like me, and sometimes find Christmas to be a time of melancholy as much as joy, a time when you may remember the hard times as much as you are celebrating the good, than may this song of hope give you encouragement. For those of us on the front lines in the battle against oppression, those of us carrying the weight of life’s trials, those who see humanity in its most depraved form; may the song of abolition, the thrill of hope from O Holy Night, the rejoicing of a weary world, bring a temporary peace to the battles you are fighting in honour of the One who came to set the captives free and right all earthly wrongs.

Merry Christmas xoxo

4 Responses to ““Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease””
  1. Emily Adele says:

    This is beautiful. O Holy Night has been my all time favorite Christmas song, especially because of the lyrics you highlighted. You did it glorious justice with this post. Merry Christmas from Cincinnati!

    • justsaskia says:

      Thank you for reading Emily. This song definitely holds so much power and I think it is a favourite of many abolitionists! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

  2. Beautiful, Saskia! You expressed it well…thank you, and many blessings as you fight the good fight!

  3. Dave Robbins says:

    Considering that these lines were part of the translation in 1855 just prior to The Civil War, these lines must have had some controversy.

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