Monday, December 17, 2012

A Silent Night

One of the many churches we saw in Zurich
     Sitting in my home this evening, I turned on my Christmas village lights.  One of my new additions is a church with choir members that revolve through an open door.  The song "Silent Night" softly plays over and over again.  How this brings back memories for me of my childhood days and visits to my grandparents home.
     On Christmas Eve, our family would gather at my Grandfather Hess' home for a meal and gift exchange.  They had a large Christmas tree in one room but on a table in their living room sat a small Christmas tree with liquid bubble lights.  Over and over again it played "Silent Night", and I never tired of watching the lights and listening to the music.   This much loved hymn has an interesting history.
     During the winter of 1818, a group of actors who traveled around the countryside came to the town of Oberndorf, a small village near Salzburg, Austria.  Their intent was to re-enact the story of Christ's birth in the church of St. Nicholas.  However, the church organ was not working properly and could not be repaired in time for this drama.  The actors decided to do the drama in a private home.
     As the Pastor Joseph Mohr went home following the drama, he took a longer path over a hill that overlooked the peaceful village below.  The silence of the night and the beauty of the snow covered homes made him recall a poem he had written some years before.  The poem was about the night that the angels came to declare the birth of the long awaited Savior to the shepherds.
     Deciding that this would make a good hymn to sing on the night of Christmas Eve, he went to the church organist Franz Xaver Gruber to compose the music.  There were only a few hours left in which to come up with the music which could be accompanied by a guitar since the church organ was not working.  By evening, the composition was complete and ready to share with the congregation at the service.   Pastor Mohr and Franz Gruber sang the hymn as Gruber played the guitar.
     Several weeks later, Karl Mauracher, a well-known organ builder, arrived to repair the church organ.  Once he had completed his work, he asked Gruber to test it.  When he sat down, he played the composition "Silent Night".   Mauracher was very impressed with the beauty of the simple tune and took copies of the words and music to his own town.    Eventually, two famous singing families heard the song and added it to their repertoire.  The song was spread all over Europe and eventually brought to the United States in 1838 and translated into English in 1863.
     In our own church, this hymn if often played and sung during a candlelight service.  Peace, quiet, reflection brought to mind as we sing it give us a sense of what it might have been like on the hillsides outside of the town of Bethlehem on the night of Christ's birth.  Scripture tells us:  "And in the same region there were shepherds out int he field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior; who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!'" (Luke 2: 8-14).
We can only picture in our minds the scene of calm and quiet on an otherwise, unremarkable night when suddenly God's angels descend to announce the birth of Messiah to these shepherds.  I believe this is what Pastor Mohr had in mind when he penned the words to this great hymn.
     Furthermore, we need to remember that God came to announce the birth of His Son not to kings and important people of the day, but to a group of lowly shepherds working on the hillsides.  Commentary notes tell us that shepherds often kept flocks nearby in the open that were to be used for Temple sacrifices even during the winter.  These men were considered ceremonially unclean as they could not follow all the cleansing laws; therefore they were despised and considered thieves as they moved around the countryside.  In addition, they were considered unreliable and often kept from giving evidence in a court of law, and yet, God chose these common men to bring the news of highest importance.  They listened to the angels and responded by going to see their Messiah.  How wonderful are God's ways?  They are so much wiser and higher than ours.  We would have taken to the airwaves or Facebook with our message about a Savior, but God went to the hillsides to tell the common man about His extraordinary entrance into history.
      Over this next week, as we hear the hymn "Silent Night" played, we need to reflect on this hymn and the picture it paints for us of that quiet night in Bethlehem.  As the angels announced His birth to the shepherds, so He also comes to us that we might hear the "Good News" of our redemption which was made possible through our Savior Jesus Christ.  Let us pause and replace our busyness with the calm of that "Silent Night".  Selah!

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