Facing a Christmas Eve Service in 1818 Father Joseph Mohr, assistant priest of the Church of Saint Nicholas in the Austrian village of Obendorf, was very discouraged. The church organ was broken and the plans for the coming Christmas celebration could not be used. In this frustrating situation, Father Mohr brought out a poem he had written’. He asked his church organist, Franz Gruber, to compose music for it. Gruber composed the tune for two voices and a guitar, and that’s the way it was presented at the Christmas Eve service in 1818.
This popular carol of the season would likely have remained unknown had not organ maker Karl Mauracher arrived after the holidays to repair the Saint Nicholas Church organ. When his repair was finished he asked organist Gruber to check it out. Gruber played the melody of the new song “Silent Night.” Mauracher was so impressed that he secured a copy of the carol. Over the next few years, he was responsible for spreading it throughout that part of Europe.
The Strausser family, well-known glove makers and folk singers, added “Silent Night” to their Christmas program. When they sang at the famous Leipzig Fair they included it in their presentation. One national leader who heard the Straussers sing the song was King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Deeply moved by “Silent Night” he ordered his cathedral Choir to sing this song every Christmas Eve in all the years to come.
“Silent Night” spread over Europe and ultimately reached around the world. Three decades later a search for the writers of this carol began. It was discovered this was the work of Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber. They had not known that the song they composed together and presented on Christmas Eve, 1818, was not only a blessing in their lives but in the lives of thousands of others all over the world.
“Silent Night” presents lyrics that talk about the birth of Emmanuel, ”God with us.” (Matthew 1:23) It refers to the singing by angels of “a Savior born.” And it sweetly but powerfully presents the Deity and Lordship of Christ.
In reading of that first Christmas two thousand years ago we see it was a “silent night.” Mary and Joseph, traveling their long, tiring journey to Bethlehem. The crowded inn that had no room for them except with the animals. A rough feeding container for a crib. Straw for the usual blankets and coverings. Nighttime. A sleeping town.
But in that quiet time, everything changed.
The stars were outshined by an angel appearance. The quietness was shattered by the remarkable heaven-sent announcement and heavenly singing. The coming of the shepherds to see what was really happening. All this brought this silent night into amazing aliveness.
Christmas brings us the much needed calm and quietness for our chaotic world. We are challenged that such a birth changed history. The superb message that “unto you is born in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11) offers hope to all. Let’s remember the story of the Christmas child moving from the manger to the cross and beyond. Why not choose the shepherds commitment to go and tell everyone what Christmas really is..
I’m ready to do that! Are you?
Till next time, Don Johnson, Kirby Pines Chaplain