As a pastor, one of the greatest experiences I have is the unique combination of exhaustion and exhilaration that occurs every year after our Christmas Eve program. I love to sit and contemplate the evening after everyone is gone and the lights are out. The carols are still lingering in the air, the Bible verses are fresh in my mind and the crowd of old and new faces has gone home to celebrate the birth of our Lord.
Joseph Mohr was a young pastor who was on his way home from just such an event - a Christmas play - on December 23, 1818. On his way home, he traveled up a quiet hillside and looked back over the small village he had just left. He took in the winter scene before him and recalled a poem he had written long ago.
The next morning he arrived at the church and showed his poem to his organist, Franz Gruber. He asked him to put the poem to music for their Christmas Eve program.
Unfortunately, the church organ was broken. Gruber, though, was able to compose some simple music on his guitar. The two performed their song for the first time that night. It was an incredible moment as the two Austrians sang the words:
“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,Alles schläft; einsam wacht”
Don’t know German? Maybe you’ll recognize the English version. Here is the first line:
“Silent night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright.”
The rest is history. Three weeks later, while the organ was being fixed, Gruber played his new song to test the repairman’s work. The organ master loved it and took the music and lyrics with him, sharing them wherever he traveled. The song spread rapidly and became a favorite world-wide. That was 204 years ago and what a blessed night it was, telling the Christmas story in a way the world had never before heard.
Take some time to contemplate the meaning of Christmas. It’s all about the birth of a little baby, on a silent night, in a tiny town thousands of miles from where you live. But, you and I still feel the ripples of that incredible moment.
“When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”