Silent Night, Holy Night

Luke 2:8-9 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
On a cold Christmas Eve in the year 1818, a young priest named Joseph Mohr quickly walked from his home in the small town in Oberndorf, Austria to the neighboring village of Amsdorf. He was carrying a piece of paper – a poem he had written two years earlier.
He made his way to the schoolhouse, walked up the stairs and knocked on the door of the second floor apartment. He was greeted by his friend, Franz Gruber, the schoolmaster in Amsdorf and also the church organist.
Father Mohr asked his friend to help him put his poem to music. He wanted a new Christmas hymn for the mass that evening. There was a catch, though. He wanted it played on guitar, not the organ.
Over the years, many have speculated why. Some say the organ was broken. Others say it was because of Father Mohr’s love for the guitar. Whatever the reason, Gruber quickly wrote a melody and guitar chords for the new Christmas carol.
That night at the Midnight Mass, Father Mohr and Franz Gruber, quietly backed by the choir and accompanied by a single guitar, sang the new hymn for the first time. It was called “Stille Nacht.” You and I know it as “Silent Night.”
“Silent Night” has since been translated into over 140 languages and sung in every corner of the world. This powerful little carol has so worked its way into people’s hearts all over the world that it isn’t really Christmas unless you sing it at least once, preferably on Christmas Eve.
Its popularity contrasts sharply with its humble beginnings. “Silent Night” scholar, Bill Eagan, once wrote: “Perhaps this is part of the miracle of Silent Night. The words flowed from the imagination of a modest curate. The music was composed by a musician who was not known outside his village. There was no celebrity to sing at its world premiere. Yet its powerful message of heavenly peace has crossed all borders and language barriers, conquering the hearts of people everywhere.”
It is not a joyous, fast-paced carol like Handel’s “Joy to the World.” Nor theologically-rich like Charles Wesley’s “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Nor does it have a complex tune like “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Rather, “Silent Night” is quiet and reflective, calling us to meditate on the scene. It is the ambience conveyed by both the gentle words and melody that create from this carol an oasis of peace.
The quiet words, the soft melody and the lonely guitar reflect the reality of the first Christmas. It was truly a silent night. In the streets of the tiny village of Bethlehem, you might have been able to hear Mary’s muffled moans as she gave birth to Jesus. You might have heard the delicate cries of the newborn baby emerging from the manger. Few, however, would have noticed.
Jesus’ birth was not reported on CNN. There were no TV cameras or paparazzi at the stable. Social media was not alerted. Jesus’ birth didn’t go viral until years later. It was a night like any other.
On that night the almighty God was born as a helpless baby and nobody noticed except a handful of shepherds who were sleeping in the fields outside of Bethlehem.
But in reality, that silent night was unlike any night. For during that holy night came our salvation. The baby so tender and mild was born to die a painful death. He came to take your place and suffer your punishment for all the hurtful things you think, say and do. He came to win for you a home in heaven. Through that baby, God won and offers eternal life to all people from every nation, tribe and language.
Deep theology radiates from the simple words and pure pictures of this Christmas hymn. The incarnation of Christ was not the actual blood-redemption, but it was the dawn of redeeming grace. With the arrival of God’s Son on earth, the long centuries of waiting were over and God’s plans were in motion. Grace fulfilled to us was given from the golden heights of heaven.
The Christ Child was born in darkness that we might be reborn as children of the light. He died in the darkness that we might live in the light of His life. He rose at dawn to usher in the new day of His resurrection. He was born on a silent, holy night in Bethlehem so that we might enjoy an eternity of sunshine-filled days in the New Jerusalem.

Perhaps most of all, “Silent Night” is beloved because it reminds us in its simple, but exceedingly clear way, the truth behind it all – the truth that changes everything: “Christ, the Savior is born!” Amen. 


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