Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
Every Christmas Eve service I look forward to singing Silent Night a cappella by candlelight. Packed together with regular and holiday attenders, we decompress from the harried pace of the season to turn our attention toward the Son of God, the only One who can bring us joy and peace that transcends our stresses and worries.
If you are not familiar with its backstory, Silent Night was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish in Oberndorf, Austria. Father Joseph Mohr penned the lyrics to “Stille Nacht” but had never managed to add a musical score. So with Christmas Eve rapidly approaching, Mohr sought the help of an old acquaintance, Franz Gruber, a schoolmaster and organist, to compose the melody for guitar accompaniment. Both performed the carol during mass on the night of December 24th, 1818. Silent Night grew in popularity worldwide, leading John Freeman Young (an Episcopal priest serving at Trinity Church, New York City) to publish the English version four decades later. Today, it has been translated into over 140 languages!
While all the verses of this arresting carol evoke a deep sense of awe and wonder, I find the third stanza most captivating: Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace… In particular, the last two lines speak to the heart of the gospel for me: the Light of the World ushers in a new era of redeeming grace. There’s an amazing war story that illustrates just how this happens in even the worst of circumstances. On Christmas Eve 1914, English and German troops called a truce from the bloodbath of trench warfare to redirect their attention toward the birth of Christ. An eerie quiet filled the night sky that was earlier shrouded with gunfire. Suddenly, silence was broken by a single voice echoing across the battlefield: “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…” In that miraculous moment enemies set aside their differences and joined the chorus. While it was only momentary peace, this historic event provided a glimpse of how the “dawn of redeeming grace” is transforming all of creation! May God bless you and your family this Christmas season with the wonder of the Christ-child who is love’s pure light and our redeeming grace!