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Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his Gospel is peace
Chains will he break for the slave is our brother
And in his Name, all oppression will cease …

From “O Holy Night”

Oppression, Slavery, and the Saviour

I was in my late thirties the first time I heard the words to “O Holy Night”. I remember thinking that some of the words were odd for a Christmas song, and I felt uncomfortable singing them. What did oppression and the horrors of slavery have to do with an innocent newborn baby in a manger? I didn’t get it.

Now I know that the breaking of chains and freedom from oppression have everything to do with Jesus who entered the world as a human baby, born of the virgin Mary.

When Jesus came into the world as the Messiah it marked the beginning of a new era. The long-awaited Saviour had come to redeem the world from the crippling consequences of sin. This included bringing freedom from all kinds of oppression.

Jesus healed the sick, he befriended outcasts, he treated disadvantaged people with compassion and dignity, he taught about justice and mercy. And he paid the penalty for sin with his sacrificial death on a cross.

Because of Jesus’ death, there is the real possibility for his followers to have power over sin (1 John 3:8b) and to experience the shalom (peace, harmony, and justice) that the Christmas angels spoke about in Luke 2:13-14.

It is plain to see, however, that the world is still in “bondage to decay.” There is still disease, conflict and violence, and the evil of slavery continues. While we do what we can, empowered by Christ’s Spirit to bring healing and justice, we’re also waiting for Jesus to return to earth so that the final stage of redemption may be completed.

Paul and the Parousia

The apostle Paul was eagerly waiting for Jesus to return to earth. In one of his earliest letters, 1 Thessalonians, Paul makes several references to Jesus’ second coming.[1] It is evident in this letter that Paul was hopeful that Jesus would soon return to earth, probably in his lifetime.

A couple of years after writing to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote several letters to the Christians in Philippi and Corinth. In these later letters, we can see that Paul is still confident of Jesus’ soon return which he refers to as the Day of Christ.[2] The Day of Christ is when Jesus returns to earth and we will see him face to face and be powerfully and gloriously transformed into his likeness.[3] It is on the Day of Christ when our full redemption and perfection will be finally accomplished.[4]

Later still, Paul wrote his letter to the Romans. In this letter, Paul is still waiting and still hopeful for Jesus’ return, but I get a sense that his patience has been tested. Paul has known and seen suffering and, along with creation, he is sighing and groaning, waiting for the redemption of our bodies so that we can be free from frustration and suffering (Rom. 8:20-25 NIV).

Jesus’ First and Second Advents

The Church has waited a long time for Jesus’ second coming. Maybe some of us have grown tired of waiting and so we rarely think of the second coming and what it will mean (cf. Luke 12:35-36).

The first coming of Jesus, which we especially remember at Christmas, should also remind us of his second coming, and kindle the hope of our complete and glorious redemption and transformation.[5]

The events of Jesus’ first coming, especially his death on the cross, have made redemption possible. Now we wait with anticipation and hope for Jesus to come a second time and redeem the world completely.

Come Lord Jesus!

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
From “O Holy Night”


[1] In 1 Thessalonians Paul used the word parousia to refer to Jesus’ second “coming” (1 Thess. 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23).

[2] Paul is the only New Testament author to use the term the Day of Christ. He only used this term in his letters to Philippians and to the Corinthians (Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16; 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor 1:14).

[3] Col. 3:4; 1 John 3:2; cf. 1 Cor. 13:10; 15:48-54; Phil. 3:20-21.

[4] 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Pet. 1:5; cf. Eph. 4:30.

[5] Just as we can be mindful of Jesus’ second coming at Christmas time, we can also be mindful of Jesus’ second coming when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and remember his death with the symbols of his broken body and shed blood. Paul mentions Jesus’ second coming in reference to the Lord’s Supper: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

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Explore more

Peace on Earth: Christmas 2011
Christmas Cardology series
The Virgin Mary Consoles Eve
The Day of Christ – Philippians 3:20-4:1
The Early Church and Slavery
“Equality” in Paul’s Letters
Instant Christianity?

I love this article entitled “How NT Wright Stole Christmas”. It looks at Advent and Christmas songs, and what Jesus came to do.

6 thoughts on “A Thrill of Hope: Jesus’ First and Second Advents

  1. Wonderfully said, Marg!

  2. Thanks Greg, and Merry Christmas!

  3. Marg, you are using the words of the 1855 translation by John S. Dwight from the French 1847 original by Placide Cappeau. These words are familiar to me from many recordings but I found that the hymnal, Praise! Our Songs and Hymns, which I had used for decades in 2 churches, has revised lyrics by Avis B. Christiansen. These are much different in verses 2 and 3. Both lyric versions are good.

  4. The Avis B. Christiansen version, plus some history of the French author and of John S. Dwight. http://www.hymnary.org/text/o_holy_night_the_stars_are_brightly_shin

  5. Thanks for the info, Bob. I’ve never heard of the second verse before. I’ve only heard of, and sung, the first and third verses.

    We sang these words again this Christmas Eve. I sang verse 3 from the heart. It is a horrifying situation that there are more people enslaved in our world than ever before, and many more people living with some kind of oppression.

    My hope is that Jesus’ law of love will prevail.

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