CHAINS SHALL HE BREAK
MONICA LA ROSE
The carol “O Holy Night” has long haunted me. I could say it’s my favorite Christmas carol, and while that would be technically true, it would only scratch the surface. “O Holy Night” isn’t a carol I sing for fun because it sounds pleasant.
It’s a song that shakes me every time I hear it. It convicts me—almost frightening me even as it draws me in.
Every time I hear “O Holy Night,” it feels as though silence and repentance are the only appropriate response.
The carol starts out serenely: O holy night, the stars are brightly shining / It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth. This is the quiet, hushed peace envisioned for that holy night that many of our beloved Christmas carols capture.
But soon we transition to the harsher context: a world “in sin and error pining.” And in that world Christ’s birth is more than a beautiful event on a quiet night. It’s the only possible light of hope. It’s the event that changes everything. For when “He appears . . . the soul felt its worth.” I used to mishear this line as “the soul felt His (Christ’s) worth.” When I realized the true lyrics, it staggered me. My faith upbringing had strongly emphasized the sin and evil of humanity but said little about the worth of humanity.
But the carol pointed to the truth: that Christ did not come “to condemn the world” (John 3:17 NIV) but to show every person in the world God’s love for them. Their worth.
When Christ appears, and we see Him as He is, we also see for the first time our worth—as well as a sense of who we were meant to be. Who we could be in Him.
And not just us; the whole world and everything in it. At His coming all “the weary world rejoices”; a “new and glorious morn” dawns; the universe itself is forever changed.
In verses two and three of the carol, we’re brought deeper into the gospel story: of a King who “lay thus in lowly manger / In all our trials born to be a friend.” His humility calls for our own: “Behold your King; before Him lowly bend.”
But the song doesn’t stop there, at what could be misunderstood as only a private relationship with Christ.
Instead, it boldly insists that we must not twist this good news into good news only for ourselves. Bowing before our humble King requires more than lip-service. At a time when slavery was still legal, the song dared to say what should have been obvious: that the oppression of anyone loved by God is an offense to
the gospel. Knowing our worth in Christ means seeing and knowing the worth of those whose humanity and pain we would often rather ignore. His coming made us sense our worth; how then could we possibly deny the worth, the humanity, of another? How can we turn a deaf ear to their pain?
Christ will break their chains and “all oppression shall cease.” Will we be a part of this work, or dare to resist a holy God of justice?
When heaven touches earth, when the holy truly reaches into our lives, we are shattered. We fall to our knees. Our prejudices, our arrogance, and our cold-heartedness in the face of others’ suffering is exposed for what is. We tremble and repent. Those marginalized, pushed to the side, blamed for their struggles, dehumanized—they are our brothers. They are our sisters. There is no justifying indifference or silence in the face of their pain. When the holy God of the universe reaches down in love and justice, how could we do otherwise than be changed? How could we do otherwise than devote our lives to pursuing God’s justice?
Fall. Hear. See.
And be forever changed. This is how we proclaim Christ’s “power and glory evermore.”
Read on as Our Daily Bread writers reflect on the language and the historical context of treasured songs—and to offer prayers of thanksgiving! May they help you enjoy Christmas music more deeply and lead you to “Fall on your knees” and “Hear the angel voices”!