O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appears and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!
A classic bit of Bonhoeffer read at the Festival of 9 Lessons and Carols. The text is below.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) a German theologian and pastor who as a Christian opposed Hitler. He was arrested in April 1943 and executed in April 1945, just days before the end of the war. This is an excerpt from a sermon delivered in London on the Third Sunday in Advent December 17, 1933
You can watch the whole service here.
When God chose Mary for his instrument, when God himself in the manger at Bethlehem decided to come into this world, that was no romantic family portrait, but the beginning of a total turning point, a new ordering of all things on this earth.
If we want to participate in this Advent and Christmas happening, we cannot simply be like spectators at a theater performance, enjoying all the familiar scenes, but we must ourselves become part of this activity, which is taking place in this “changing of all things.” We must have our part in this drama. The spectator becomes an actor in the play. We cannot withdraw ourselves from it.
What part then do we play? Pious shepherds who bow the knee? Kings, who bring their gifts?
What play then is being performed when Mary becomes the mother of God? When God comes in the lowly state of a child in the manger? It is the judgment of the world and the salvation of the world that is being acted out here.
And it is the Christ child in the manger, who judges and saves the world. He turns back the great and the powerful. He has brought down the thrones of the rulers. He has humbled the proud. He has used his power against the high and mighty, and has raised up the lowly and made them great and glorious in his compassion.
And therefore we cannot approach this manger as we approach the cradle of any other child. But who would go to this manger goes where something will happen. When he leaves the manger, he leaves either condemned or delivered. Here, he will be broken in pieces or know the compassion of God coming to him. …
For what is true is that God himself, the Lord and Creator of all things, here becomes little and helpless, here in a corner, in seclusion, unnoticed, he enters the world. Helpless and powerless as a baby, he meets us and wants to be with us. This is not trifling or playing games, but real! The Christ child indicates to us where he is and who he is and from this place judges all human pretensions to greatness, dethroning the rulers and devaluing the proud. …
Who of us would want to celebrate Christmas correctly? Who will finally lay at the manger all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all pride, and all selfishness? Who is content to be lowly and to let God alone be high? Who sees the glory of God in the humble state of the child in the manger? Who says with Mary: “The Lord has been mindful of my humble state. My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior?”