CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN
December 17, 2023
The Story Behind The Beloved
Christmas Carol "Silent Night"
WRTI Your Classical and Jazz Source | By Susan
Published December 20, 2021 at 12:27 PM EST
It was 205 years ago when "Silent
Night" was first heard by Austrian villagers attending Christmas Eve mass
in St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf. How did this simple melody, with its words
of comfort, become a beloved hymn of peace throughout the world?
"Silent Night" is about a
calm and bright silent night, and the wonder of a tender and mild newborn
child, words written in 1816 by a young priest in Austria, Joseph Mohr, not
long after the Napoleonic wars had taken their toll.
"The backstory is that the priest
went for a walk before he wrote it, and he looked out over a very quiet,
winter-laden town," says composer/conductor John Conahan, who
co-organized the Silent Night Sing-In with WRTI in 2018, 2019 and
2023, and created a new arrangement of the famous carol. "He was
inspired...the town was at peace."
It was Christmas Eve, 1818, when the
now-famous carol was first performed as Stille Nacht Heilige Nacht. Joseph
Mohr, the young priest who wrote the lyrics, played the guitar and sang along
with Franz Xaver Gruber, the choir director who had written the melody.
An organ builder and repair man
working at the church took a copy of the six-verse song to his home village.
There, it was picked up and spread by two families of traveling folk singers,
who performed around northern Europe. In 1834, the Strasser family performed it
for the King of Prussia. In 1839, the Rainer family of singers debuted the
carol outside Trinity Church in New York City.
The composition evolved, and was
translated into over 300 languages with many different arrangements for various
voices and ensembles. It was sung in churches, in town squares, even on the
battlefield during World War I, when, during a temporary truce on Christmas
Eve, soldiers sang carols from home. "Silent Night," by 1914, known
around the world, was sung simultaneously in French, German and English.
Over the years, the carol's mystique
grew with its popularity. After the original manuscript was lost, for decades,
some speculated that the music had been written by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven.
In 1994, an original manuscript was found in Mohr's handwriting, with Gruber
named as composer.
Today, the Franz Xaver Gruber Museum
in Hallein and the Joseph Mohr School in Wagrain, Austria honor the creators of
this classic carol. The Stille Nacht Gesellschaft—or Silent Night Society—hosts
a virtual Silent Night museum, tracks events, and promotes the use of all six
verses, which in the words of Silent Night Society president "[encourage]
peace and [demand] responsibility for the globe."
The English version of "Silent
Night" is typically sung in three verses corresponding with the original
1, 6, and 2.
Silent night, holy night, all is calm,
all is bright. 'Round yon Virgin Mother and Child, Holy Infant so tender and
mild. Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night! Shepherds
quake at the sight! Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing
Alleluia! Christ, the Savior is born, Christ, the Savior is born.
Silent night, holy night, Son of God,
love's pure light. Radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming
grace. Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.
Before we look at today’s scripture
and message, how many of you knew Silent Night actually has 6 verses? As has
been the case with some of the carols we have looked at, this story seemingly
was inspired as a result of a world in turmoil and a night that the composer
experienced when all seemed as God ideally intends for His creation, His
people. A beautiful, silent night, that reminded Joseph Mohr of what could be,
not what had been. This song did seem to be written as a Christmas song. It was
inspired by God to help us all know God is with us through the good and the
difficult times of life. His peace and love are there in the midst of our
storms if we invite him in. For the message that we have today, this song jumps
the gun a bit for what we will be looking at this morning.
What a glorious promise God is making
to His people through Micah. The first promise talks of Bethlehem. Bethlehem
had not been one of the towns that had held a lot of prominence in the story of
God’s people yet. It was to have the ruler, the Messiah, come from it. God’s
people had been dominated by others for quite some time when this promise was
made. God’s promise warned them that it was still going to be a longer wait
until the good shepherd would come to redeem them. In fact, this was written 700
years before the birth of Christ. Of course, they did not know for sure how
long the wait would be, yet you have to believe they wanted to believe it would
be within the lifetime of those who first received this promise. Yet the
promise went unfulfilled for generation after generation.
It would have been easy for this
message, this promise, to have been lost, forgotten. Yet there were those
generation after generation that continued to hope and wait for God to honor
Let us now move forward to Luke 1:
26-35 and then skip to verse 38. Here we read that God is setting the stage to
fulfill what had been promised by the Old Testament prophets including what we
read in Micah this morning.
Let’s face it, we all want to see
things happen on our timetable more times than not. Whether Mary knew of all
the promises made hundreds of years earlier or not, we do not know. We do know
by what has been recorded that Mary with only a little questioning was willing
to do what the angel said would happen. Let us look a little closer at what was
told to Micah and then what the angel, Gabriel told Mary about the child who
would be born to her.
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
5 And he will be our peace…
Now let’s see what was promised to
Mary in Luke.
32 He will be great and will be called the
Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father
David, 33 and
he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never
So, we see the promise made to God’s
people through Micah 700 years earlier is finally about to happen or so it
seems. God sent Gabriel to a young woman living in Nazareth to announce God is
about to do something never before done. If you think about it, God is all
about doing the impossible. Story after story in the Old Testament is about God
doing something new for His people, through His people. Doing things that seem impossible
but for our God nothing is impossible. There are also a number of stories in
the New Testament as well.
The stage is set. God’s promises have
been made through Micah and now to a young girl in Nazareth. Did God do what he
promised? Stay tuned as we will see next Sunday whether God was really able to
keep these promises. All of God’s people, all of creation depend on it.
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Tuesdays 9:30 Bible Study cancelled until after the first of the new year.
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in Your Prayers
Ava; Nora Hanaver; Jonah Martina; Jan Bower; Larry Traxler; Randy and
Michelle West; Mike Gentry; Eli Brunner; Nancy Fansler; Doug Larrick; Ron &
Kathleen Petersen; Debbie Leibrock; Dorthea Wood; Tina Wilhelm; Mike and Carol
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Warren; Nancy Gorrell; many unspoken requests; victims of disasters; victims of
shootings; shut-ins; the Nigerian church; Haitian Brethren; Ukraine; Moracco;
Israel and Hamas war
Military and Other Services and their families
Brethren Volunteer Service workers; Disaster project workers
District Prayer Calendar: Pray for the Neighborhood
congregation and On Earth Peace.