It was just about this time, several decades ago; December . . . sometime in the 1960s. I was with my 8th grade schoolmates on a field trip to the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
We were going to see what others knew to be a world-famous astronomical Christmas program. That did not mean much to me. At that stage of my life, just going into New York was a big thing. Being out of the formal school setting also made it a special day. This was a day to wander around with my friends, to try to impress the girls in our class, to talk loud and generally act our age. Oh yeah, we might learn something, too.
Our class lined up at the door to the planetarium, slightly in awe as we entered the darkened room and found seats. We were in something like a movie theater, but the rows of seats were set in concentric circles around a large dumbbell shaped projector. Above us was a domed ceiling; typical for a planetarium, but this was my first time and I was soaking it all in.
As the seats filled, the room grew even darker and a voice came through the speakers, talking about the star of Bethlehem. I was interested in science and outer space, so was captivated. The religious part went past me. Jesus, the manger, the star, God Himself, were not part of my world, though I did wonder about that last One.
The voice continued, talking about the star. Having a common knowledge of the Christmas story, I could follow along and was interested because of the science involved. Was this a real star, a comet, constellation, or even an unexplained event? The voice never mentioned UFOs, but that, too, was in my mind.
As the show progressed, the huge projector in the center of the theater turned the dome into a picture of our night sky, then turned the clock back by showing what the sky would have looked like over Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Now that was cool! I was totally enthralled throughout the show, and would have gone away with a simple happy memory if it had ended at that point. But there was more!
As the dome returned to our own time, the voice was replaced by carols, and the edges of the dome lit up with photographs of Christmas decorations and scenes from around the metropolitan area. Not quite as interesting as the star show, I had fun trying to recognize decorations from our area of New Jersey.
Then something entered my consciousness. The music had changed to trumpets playing a tune I recognized, even if I didn’t then know the words to O Holy Night! That music got past my ears and into my heart. Something stirred. I thought, “There’s something beyond me in this song! I wish I could know what it means.” Something within me responded, “Keep wishing; you will.”
A couple of Christmases later I did know (but that’s another story). The first time I sang O Holy Night as a believer, I was struck dumb as the magnificence of the words became even greater because of my new relationship with Jesus Christ.
To this day I cannot hear O Holy Night without thinking of that afternoon in New York when I received a foreshadowing of glory. And, yes, O Holy Night is, far and away, my favorite song of the Christmas season.
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd 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 angels' voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
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.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.