The First Ever Radio Broadcast Has Its Roots In The First Christmas - and A French Christmas in 1847
By Dr. Jake Baker - TapWires News Service
In the chill of the first Christmas eve, history and divinity held hands as a child was born in the hamlet of Bethlehem. If there is anything that the Christmas story should teach us, it is this. Yahweh has a divine plan. You and I are a part of that divine plan. You have a destiny for which you and you alone were born. You are unique in all creation. You are never alone, you are never forsaken, you are never shipwrecked and forgotten because there is Someone who will always love you, never forget you, and who will never abandon you.
God knew you from before time began. From Genesis to that lowly birth in a rude stable in a small town in Israel, your redemption was a part of an eternal plan unfolding across the pages of history.
As it dawned toward the first Christmas eve, while shepherds tended their flocks in the fields by night, there was suddenly in the skies above them a host of heavenly angels singing, “Glory to God In The Highest – Peace On Earth Good Will Toward Men.” And what was the reason for the appearance of this Heavenly Choir? The answer can be found in Luke 2:11, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
On that night, that “Holy Night” as the French Wine Commissioner Placide Cappeau wrote in 1847, the world was forever changed. But the song “Oh Holy Night”, while a true test for vocalists and musicians, has a fascinating history which includes being banned by the Catholic church.
In 1847, it seems the local parish priest asked Mr. Cappeau to write a poem for the upcoming Christmas eve service. Seems that Mr. Chappeau had a hard trip to Paris on his schedule and it was during that trip that the Frenchman penned the words to the what has become the highlight of many Christmas cantatas originally known as "Cantique de Noel".
In writing the Christmas favorite, Cappeau said he imagined himself in that field with the shepherds. He pictured himself there at the birth of the Messiah and in that rapt state, he felt the glorious wonder of that moment, and by grace, that wonder flowed through his pen and onto the pages of history.
As the story unfolds, the mystique grows. Having now penned the words, Chappeau needed the music to, as he said, “lift the souls heavenward.” But choosing the person for writing the music for the glorious majesty of this poem would not be easy. Eventually, Chappeau turned to a friend, Adolphe Charles Adams. Interestingly, this particular friend was of the Jewish faith.
While some Jews might have been insulted by a Christian asking them to write music for a Christmas carol about the birth of the Messiah, Adams, an accomplished classical musician, gladly honored his friend’s request and set to work creating original music for the poem. And what a piece of music it was. The breathless, soaring music was the perfect match to the awsome power of the poem. And so it was, that what we have come to know as “Oh Holy Night”, was performed that Christmas eve for the French congregation.
Word of the song began to spread and soon the carol was a favorite of the French people. But, as usual, Satan never lets anything so magnificently glorifying God, pass without attempting to destroy it. Such was the case with this beloved song.
As time moved on, in the arrogance of his own intellect, Mr. Chappeau left Christendom for the religious philosophy of socialism. Soon it was noised abroad that the author was no longer in the Catholic Church and that the music had been composed by a practitioner of the Jewish faith. Consequently, the anthem was banned by the Church. Fortunately, for all of us, the French people loved the song and refused to let it fade into history and continued to embrace the song, albeit outside the official sanction of the Church.
As the story goes, the song "Cantique de Noel" or “Oh Holy Night” was brought back into the Church after an encounter between French and German troops in the late 1800s during the Franco-Prussian War. As the Frenchmen, who occupied the horrific trenches opposite the enemy, began to sing “Oh Holy Night.” history records that the Germans were touched by the hymn and responded by singing one of Luther’s hymns “The Songfest.” Both sides were moved by the shared experience and as a result, the enemies honored a 24 hour Christmas truce.
Ten years later an American abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight, heard the carol and loved its triumphant message of hope - especially where the verse exclaims- "Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease."
Inspired by the song, Dwight translated the Christmas hymn to English and it quickly became a favorite in the pre-civil war north almost overnight. But this song and its legend was not finished and was involved in an amazing technological advance.
The setting is Christmas Eve 1906. Inventor and former colleague of Thomas Edison, Reginald Fessenden, was conducting experiments with a microphone and the telegraph. Fessenden began reading the Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2.
1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Suddenly, from around the world, wireless operators on board ships and at newspaper desks began to hear a man's voice come out of their telegraph machines. They were, to say the least, astonished. For the first time in history a man’s voice was broadcast. This was the first radio broadcast ever heard and that first broadcast was of the Gospel … the Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2.
But the story still isn’t finished. Not only was Fessenden an inventor, he was also a violinist. As he finished that reading of the birth of the Messiah, he picked up his violin and began playing a Christmas carol … and you guessed it … the song he chose for the first ever broadcast of music on radio - "O Holy Night" … The song written by a wine merchant in France, set to music by a composer who practiced the Jewish faith, banned by church leaders, kept alive by the French people contravening the church’s ban, sung by troops in the trenches in the Franco-Prussian War, heard and adopted by American abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight, and at last, broadcast to the whole world by invisible radio waves.
This is the power of destiny – Under Yahweh’s divine plan even technology is subject to the blueprint of eternity as the airwaves were filled with the glorious strains of "O Holy Night."
Listen to the beautiful rendition of “Oh Holy Night” from the Gaithers.
Christmas, Savior, Shepherds, Messiah, Christ Child, Bethlehem, Redemption
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Till he appeared 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, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend;
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,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!