The Well of Christmas Despair

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Shocked. Yet honored. Placide Cappeau of Roquemaure, France, was a commissionaire of wines in 1847. Asked by the small town parish priest to pen a poem for Christmas, he was happy to share his talent with the church, even though he was known more for his poetry than his church attendance.

Traveling to Paris in a horse-drawn coach, Cappeau decided to use the gospel of Luke as his inspiration and imagined he was a witness to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. By the time he arrived in Paris, he had completed “Cantique de Noel.”

Moved by his own writing, Cappeau decided his poem deserved a melody by a master musician, so he sought the help of his friend Adolphe Charles Adams, a Jew.

Not believing Jesus to be the son of God, Adams nevertheless quickly wrote the score to Cappeau’s beautiful words. Being well received, the finished work debuted three weeks later at the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

The church wholeheartedly accepted the piece and it quickly became a favorite for Catholic Christmas services. However, when Cappeau turned his back on the church and became part of the socialist movement, and the church leaders discovered Adams was a Jew, the church suddenly denounced France’s beloved Christmas song.

Even though it was squashed, the song went underground, so to speak, because the people loved it and continued to sing it as it brought hope in their despair.

In 1855, when American writer and abolitionist John Sullivan Dwight heard these words of the Cantique…

He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.

…he decided to translate the carol into English for America and published his version of the carol as “O Holy Night” in his magazine Dwight’s Journal of Music. It found favor especially in the north during the Civil War.

Then, in 1871 in France, the legend goes that on Christmas Eve, amidst fierce fighting during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench.

With no weapon in his hands, he lifted his eyes to heaven and began singing the “Cantique de Noel.”

After the French soldier completed all three verses, a German infantryman climbed out of his trench and answered with lines from Martin Luther’s “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”

After this jubilant display, the fighting stopped for twenty-four hours as both sides observed a temporary peace in honor of Christmas day. The ceasing of war’s despair, if only for a short while, allowed a ray of hope.

The thought of Christmas despair at wartime reminds me of…yes, once again…another episode of the wartime M*A*S*H series.

In one Christmas episode, Charles Emerson Winchester III, a.k.a. Snootyface, is depressed, “waxing nostalgic” as he calls it, and would much rather be at home in Boston with his family gathered around the fireplace, with all “its civility.”

Unbeknownst to Charles, Radar has written to Charles’ mother, at the suggestion of Father Mulcahy, asking that she send something to make Charles feel more at home, even in his hostile surroundings, and bring him a little hope.

She sends an old toboggan cap from Charles’ youth, for which he is totally delighted. With the cap stretched over his balding head, Charles cleans out his pockets of all his cash and gives it to the Father for the orphans.

Father Mulcahy, puzzled by Charles’ generosity, asks, “Major, are you all right?”

Chuckling, Charles says, “You saved me, Father. You lowered a bucket into the well of my despair and you raised me up to the light of day. I thank you for that.”

Many have their own personal wartime at Christmas: depression, heartache, loneliness, frustration, whatever.

Do you see others drinking from the well of despair this time of year? Offer them a drink from the well of Living Waters to give them hope, to raise them up to see the light of day. To see Jesus as the Light of their day.

Maybe you have your own well of Christmas despair. What reaches down into that well and raises you up to the light of day?

Maybe you have some war waging within you. What song do you sing to still that warring?

The Father is sending you hope and encouragement from Home through the miracle of the manger, the birth of His Son Jesus.

And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

O holy night, O night divine!
O night divine, indeed!

One of the most beautiful recordings of “O Holy Night” is by Josh Groban. I think it is my favorite. Enjoy…

May your well of Christmas joy overflow!

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  1. says

    So eloquently written, Lynn. It’s as if I were watching it unfold as I read it! I am printing this out and sharing it with my children as part of their home school lesson today! Blessings and hugs!

    • lynnmosher says

      Hello, dear Betty! I’ve missed you. Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s one of my favorites as well. So glad you stopped by! Bless you!

    • lynnmosher says

      Thanks so much, Ceci, for stopping by. And amen that God blesses us as we believe! May you have have a blessed Christmas!

  2. Mary Gemmill says

    I love that song especially sung by Josh Groban.
    I relate to the difficulties some face each Christmas because in our family it is always believers together with unbelievers, and religious people with God-fearing Christians.
    Prayer has become essential to ensure Christ mas passes without negativity and religiosity wearing down those who truly rejoice in their hearts that God’s son came to save us.
    Thought-provoking post dear Lynn- thanks!
    May the season be about the reason for you and your readers :)

    • lynnmosher says

      Thank you so much, sweet Mary, for your generous comment. Praying for a peaceful and blessed Christmas for you and your family. Bless you!

  3. says

    Oh, simply lovely. You got me to thinking about why this season brings joy and despair. I feel both and I don’t like to face the despair part, but I need to and give it to God continually, C-mas after C-mas. Thank you for pointing to Christ and his living water…versus well of despair water…beautiful truth. Merry Christmas!

    • lynnmosher says

      You’re right, Dionne. The season does seem to evoke both feelings. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I’m honored. A very merry Christ-mas to you!

    • lynnmosher says

      Thanks so much, Dana, for stopping by and thanks so much for the link! I deeply appreciate it. I’ll have to check out that rendition. Glad you mentioned it! Blessings to you!

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