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”!

Read: John 3: 16-21

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3: 16

Since I grew up in a non-Christian family, I didn’t celebrate Christmas as a child. But once when I was young, my siblings and I, together with a few neighborhood kids, decided to have a Christmas gift exchange. I don’t know where we got the idea—maybe from all the TV shows we’d been watching.

We put our names into a bag, and each of us picked the name of someone to buy a present for. We decided we liked this tradition.We didn’t yet realize the perfect gift had been given to us 2,000 years ago by God our Creator. Charles Wesley captured this in his hymn “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” He wrote of Jesus, “Light and life to all He brings, / Risen with healing in His wings.” The Bible tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16 NKJV). Why did God give us his Son, and what does that mean for us? As Wesley wrote, “Born to raise the sons of earth, / Born to give them second birth.”

As a teenager, I heard about Jesus—the one born to give us “second birth”—and believed in Him as my Savior. Christmas is special to me now because I understand its meaning—it’s a celebration of God’s perfect gift, Jesus Christ. God isn’t a mystical force out there; He’s a personal God who extends His love to people of all nations and socio-economic classes. And this personal God expressed His love for me by dying for me. “Glory to the newborn King!”


What Christmas traditions do you celebrate? How might they remind you of Jesus’ birth?

Dear God, thank You for showing us that to love is to give.

Read: Hebrews 2: 10-17

He…shared in their humanity so that…he might free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. – Hebrews 2: 14-15

 It likely was not a “bleak midwinter” when Jesus was born. Given the climate in Palestine, there likely was no “frosty wind” moaning, and it’s highly unlikely that “snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.” But these haunting lines from nineteenth-century English poet Christina Rosetti’s poem, now best known as the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter,” still ring profoundly true. By describing Christ coming in the harshest of winters, Rosetti painted a picture of a harsh world in desperate need of hope. Her words “Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone” point beyond the literal to the state of human hearts—wounded and hardened
by pain and death.

And in our bleakest of winters, Christ comes. The One who, as Rosetti penned, “cherubim worship night and day,” was content with the humility of living “fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17 NIV). He entered our world, sharing in our humanity to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (V. 15 NIV). He came to forever free us from the grip of death on our hearts, to free our hearts to experience joy.

It’s a gift beyond words and beyond repayment. As Rosetti concluded, “What can I give Him, poor as I am?” But our prayer can be, “What I can I give Him: give my heart.”


In what ways are you experiencing a “bleak midwinter”? How does the gift of Christ offer hope?

Dear Jesus, please help me give You my heart.

Read : Daniel 3:24–30

Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants. – Daniel 3:28

What do a man who would turn away from faith in Christ, a Jewish opera composer, and a Unitarian minister have in common? They’re all part of the history of the carol “O Holy Night.” In 1843, Placide Cappeau wrote the lyrics, Adolphe Adam wrote the music, and in 1855 John Sullivan Dwight crafted the English version. An unlikely trio behind the song that declares, “Christ is the Lord… His power and glory evermore proclaim.”

It was also unlikely that King Nebuchadnezzar would proclaim God’s power and praise Him—but he did. The monarch had a problem. Three God-believing men, forced into Babylonian captivity and service, refused to “worship the gold statue [the king had] set up” (Daniel 3:12). Though the king threatened to kill the men, they said they didn’t need to “defend” themselves for God would “rescue” them (VV. 16–17). God did miraculously save the three from the fiery furnace (VV. 26–27). At the sight of the spared trio, the king declared, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!” (V. 28).

Cappeau and the king both pointed to God’s power and glory. And although they clearly caught a glimpse of the truth, it doesn’t appear that either came to lasting faith in Him. This Christmas, as people catch sight of Jesus and His story, let’s share the good news so that others might believe and proclaim, “Christ is the Lord!”


How can you proclaim Jesus’ power and glory this Christmas? How have you seen non-Christians “proclaim” God’s reality?

Dear Jesus, help me proclaim Your power and glory!

Read : Luke 2: 8-14

A Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. – Luke 2:11

I grew up in the home of a hymn-singing grandmother, and I weekly attended Sunday school where we sang songs like “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” and “We’re Marching to Zion.” Yet, as an adult I’m still discovering the breadth and depth of our Christian playlist—especially the songs we sing at Christmas time.

The nineteenth-century composition “Who Is He in Yonder Stall?” is particularly rich. Each verse poses a question about the identity of the One whom shepherds adored after He made His way into the world. The angelic heralds were clear that the One they would find in the stall (Luke 2:12) was the long-awaited, God-designated ruler. “The Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (V. 11).

His birth, however, was but part of a grander story. The verses of the song beautifully include snapshots from the life and ministry of Jesus: His death, resurrection, and coming glory. The chorus is a confession of belief in and worship of the One featured in the story: ’Tis the Lord! O wondrous story! ’Tis the Lord! the King of glory! At His feet we humbly fall, Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all!


At what point in your life have you bowed your knee in submission to Jesus, the One sent from the Father to secure our forgiveness through His death? If you haven’t believed and received Him, what keeps you from doing so today?

Heavenly Father, thank You for so loving the world that You sent Your Son to live among us and die for us so we can have a relationship with You.

Read : Matthew 2:1–13

This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my son out of Egypt.” – Matthew 2:15

I didn’t anticipate that singing a carol at church would jolt me with surprise and pain, but that’s what happened my first Christmas in England. I’d lived in this new country for nearly a year after marrying an Englishman, and I found the adjustment challenging. I hadn’t reckoned on church being so hard, with the different customs unsettling me. Thus, when from the piano wafted a strange (to me) tune for “Away in a Manger,” I blinked back my tears. I was happy to be married but sad to be away from the familiar.

Yet singing this particular carol was fitting during that time of unease. After all, the first line describes Jesus’ birth: “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed.” Not only was He born in humble circumstances but as a toddler He also fled from Herod. God’s angel warned Joseph in a dream to leave: “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother” (Matthew 2:13). Jesus was kept safe, but He knew what it felt to be displaced. It was a feeling He experienced throughout His earthly life—away from His Father in heaven.

We don’t need to change locations to feel out of place; pangs of longing can come at any moment and at any place. When they do, we can turn to the Man who suffered and grieved. His birth and His presence bring us hope and strength.


When have you been surprised by an ache or a yearning? In those moments, how can you turn to Jesus?

God who became Man, You felt the ultimate dislocation when You came to earth as a baby. When I feel lost,I look to You for comfort.

Read : Matthew 1:20-23

They will call him Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:23

On a Christmas morning years ago, I stood beside my dad at the foot of the stairs and saw the sadness in his face. The effects of dementia were progressing. He realized he’d never again climb those stairs and enter the room he’d shared with my mom all these years.

Our family entered a season of waiting. Waiting for the disease to remove Daddy’s voice and thinking. Waiting for the moment when his eyes would tell us he didn’t know who we were. Waiting for the endings to come.

That Christmas I found hope in the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” It’s about waiting. The Israelites had been waiting for the Messiah to come—wondering if He really would. Their waiting, however, wasn’t in vain. Jesus was born into our world to save us from sin—His birth the fulfillment of prophecy hundreds of years before: “The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’),” said the prophet Isaiah (7:14).

Jesus’ birth redeems the endings in our life. His presence strength- ens us as we wait for them and journey through them. God was with my dad that day as he looked up the flight of stairs. And one day, He will be with us, forever. He’s the end of all our painful waiting—the end of all our endings. God is with us (Matthew 1:23).


How does the truth of God’s presence with you transform your seasons of waiting? Even while knowing that life is full of endings, why can you still look to the future with hope?

Dear Jesus, thank You for being my Immanuel.

Read : Matthew 2:13-18

‘ The time of the Lord’s favor has come.’ – Luke 4:19

How easily the words to some of our best carols escape our hearing. Take, for instance, the exquisitely gorgeous “Coventry Carol.” The first verse ushers us to a safe place. Mary croons to her infant: Lullay, thou little tiny child; sleep well, lully, lullay.

Soon, however, the lyrics lead us where we’d rather not go. Violence intrudes. Herod the king in his raging; Set forth upon this day; By his decree, no life spare thee; All children young to slay.

Herod had learned of the birth of the king of the Jews from the wise men (Matthew 2:2). Consulting the religious leaders, he then heard that the prophecies foretold Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem (VV. 4–6). So Herod ordered the slaughter of every baby boy there (V. 16). Matthew records the anguish: “Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead” (V. 18).

Herod thought he’d won, but he is remembered only as an archvillain. Jesus gets the last word. Decades later, He sat down in a synagogue to read another prophecy: “He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18–19).

Jesus changed the trajectory of our story. Violence will end. A new day is coming.


What aspects of the holidays trouble you? How might the words of Jesus in Luke 4:18–19 encourage you this Christmas season?

Thank You, Father, for sending Your Son to bring peace and healing to our broken world.

Read : John 1: 1-14

‘The Word became human and made his home among us.’ – John 1: 14

When my brother wasn’t well enough to go camping, my dad brought the camping trip to him. They pitched a tent behind our house, underneath the stars. Together they made their dwelling on the bumpy ground, reminiscent of the shepherds watching their flocks by night, taking in the outdoor sounds and waking with the dawn.

John, in the poetic opening to his gospel, describes how Jesus came to Earth and pitched His tent with us: “The Word became human and made his home among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word here for made his home means to pitch a tent, and it’s the same word used elsewhere in the New Testament for the tent—the tabernacle—where God dwelled with the Israelites in the Old Testament (Acts 7:44). As God camped out with the Israelites, so too has Jesus set up His tent to be with His people.

When you have a few moments, read through the opening verses of John’s gospel slowly and let the amazing truths sink in about the Word made flesh, Jesus who came to Earth to dwell among us. As the inspiring song “Angels from the Realms of Glory” says, “God with man is now residing.” He who was with God before the creation of the world has come to be the light shining in the darkness.


What does it mean for you that Jesus “pitches His tent” on Earth? How might you share His light today?

Dear Jesus, You came from the Father, and You take us to the Father. Thank You for pitching Your tent among us, bringing us grace and truth.

Read : Luke 1: 26-38

‘You have found favor with God!’ – Luke 1: 30

As a slave in the American South, Mary Gaffney feared having children. By law, her child could be sold away. Or she could be sold away from her child. This fearsome reality for enslaved women and their children in America adds special poignancy to the African American spiritual Christmas song “Mary Had a Baby.” Thought to have originated in the slave community in the South Carolina island of St. Helena in the 1700s, the song creates “a heightened sense of dignity,” as one source says, honoring the biblical Mary and her newborn child despite their humble situation. “Laid Him in a manger,” says the song. “Traveled on a donkey,” adds the lyric. But “people keep a-comin’” to Him — because of who He is as affirmed by His brave mother.

The angel Gabriel announces to Mary—“Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). Mary was troubled by his words (V. 29), not understanding them. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son.” Indeed, “He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (VV. 30–33).

But first, Jesus was a baby. His mother was a courageous peasant. And His birth in such humble circumstances forever changed all of us.


After a child is born, how can a mother bestow him or her with dignity? How can you convey to them godly love?

Dear God, help me dignify new mothers by showing them and their children Your love.

Read : Revelation 21:1-5

‘Look, I am making everything new!’ – Revelation 21:5

In 1861, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s wife died tragically in a fire. That first Christmas without her, he wrote in his diary, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.” The next year was no better, as he recorded, “‘A merry Christmas,’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

The Civil War dragged on. Longfellow’s son was badly wounded. As church bells announced the arrival of another painful Christmas, Longfellow picked up his pen to write “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

The poem begins pleasantly, lyrically, but soon takes a dark turn. The violence of the pivotal fourth verse seems ill-suited for a Christmas carol. “Accursed” cannons “thundered,” mocking the message of peace. By the fifth and sixth verses, Longfellow’s desolation is nearly complete. “It was as if an earthquake rent the hearthstones of a continent,” he wrote. The poet nearly gave up. “And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said.”

But from the depths of that bleak Christmas, Longfellow heard the irrepressible sound of hope. And he wrote this seventh stanza. Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

The war raged on, but it couldn’t stop Christmas. The Messiah is born! He promises, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5). Change is in the air.


When have you faced despair? How does the promise of Revelation 21 give you hope?

Dear God, we long for the day when You will make all things new.