Some of our Christmas songs have been around for generation upon generation, while others are made popular in recent decades. One such enduring song is Silent Night. There are some interesting facts about this song I discovered this week in my study of Christmas traditions. Did you realize this song was penned in German by Joseph Mohr, an Austrian priest, in 1816? That makes this Christmas song nearly two centuries old! The purpose of the song was something most of us would not know. It was written to be sung by children on Christmas Eve at the evening service on the night before Christmas. Most of us don't associate this song as a "children's song", but it was his original intent in penning these words. With the assistance of Franz Gruber, another Austrian priest, the song was set to the melody we come to associate with this song to this day. It was first sung at midnight mass in 1818. For 196 years, Christmas festivities everywhere have continued the tradition of singing this "hallowed" song of Christmas. It was the words of the original song which really caught my attention, though. The way we sing the song today is a little different than the original wording of the song as Father Mohr penned it! "Silent night, holy night, Bethlehem sleeps, yet what light, floats around the heavenly pair; Songs of angels fills the air. Strains of heavenly peace..." Maybe it is the difference between the original German and the translation into English, but the words are slightly different now. In 1839, the Rainer family sang the tune outside Trinity Church in New York - the simple melody as we know it today. Yet, in either "version" of the song, we find one reminder we cannot forget - peace came in the form of a child born of a virgin that night in Bethlehem!
God has done it all! He sent Christ to make peace between himself and us, and he has given us the work of making peace between himself and others. (2 Corinthians 5:18 CEV)
What makes "all calm" and "all bright"? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What brings redeeming grace? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What brings hope where no other hope exists? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. One might say the song which most closely expressed the "original" words of this song is also the old church hymn - "Nothing But the Blood"! The message is clear - the peace of God is possible because of the birth of Jesus! His coming was the only way the penalty for our sins could be paid. The shedding of his blood was the only way for peace and hope to be restored! What may have been pondered in the heart of Mary all those years ago was likely the mystery of this tiny life - a life totally human, yet totally divine. A life born to die!
The carol was sung in some pretty moving times, such as during the Christmas Truce of World War I in December of 1914 when both sides of warring armies laid down their weapons and sang out loudly the moving words of this carol of peace. Imagine the devastation of war and then the melodic chords of "Silent Night, Holy Night" being sung out from the bunkers and byways. The silence of night pierced with the melody of peace! What a moving moment that must have been for those soldiers caught in the battle of a lifetime. Some would not make it home to families, others would return, but scarred for life. In the midst of war, a moment of praise erupts - tugging at the hearts of all as the words call for "all calm" and "all brightness" to be restored!
Those who have never experienced this peace have no idea of the possibilities of "calm" which exist for their lives. The "warring factions" within - that of selfish ambitions, luring lusts, and hurts galore - all manner of agitation and unease - all set at peace through the blood of Jesus. The call of the simple hymn of worship is that we might come to consider the stillness offered to us through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of this one we came to know as the Messiah, the Christ child. "Son of God, loves pure light" - consider those words for just a moment. Son of God - all powerful, all knowing, ever present. Loves pure light - no darkness in him, no place for darkness to flee. "With the dawn of redeeming grace" - we enter into the presence and person of true and lasting Peace.
Peace is not a "state", but a person. Peace is not a lack of movement, but a settling of the heart's emotions and the pull of the mind's ravishing thoughts. Peace is not elusive, but is at our doorstep today. Peace is ours for the beholding - ours for the taking. All we need to do is invite him in. In those moments between considering and inviting, all war will cease! All despair will flee! All hope will be restored! All fear will be disabled! Silent Night, Holy Night, Son of God, Loves pure Light! Just singin!