Christmas Eve – Candlelight, Stille Nacht, 200th Anniversary

Christmas Eve Candlelight Homily:

On Christmas night, 1818, mice were stirring and chewing through the organ bellows at St. Nicholas in Oberdorf, Austria. For two years parish priest Joseph Mohr had been working on the lyrics to the now famous carol, Stille Nacht, Silent Night. He penned them as he reflected and gazed often at a parish painting  depicting the miracle that is Christmas, that nativity of Jesus in the arms of his mother Mary.

Pastor Mohr then worked with teacher Franz Gruber to compose a melody for the hymn. Because of the persistent organ problems at St. Nicholas Church it was desired be simple. It was completed but not done for Christmas Eve Mass, as is fancifully and popularly told. Rather, after the midnight service was complete, the two remained outside and sang it together.

It was not immediately popular and in fact rejected several times over. In 1839 the Rainer Austrian family singers brought the carol the New York and it became an annual tradition. Mohr never heard such news and never lived to know the appreciation of his hymn, likewise for the music teacher Gruber. It would not be until 1995 that we had knowledge of Mohr and Gruber as the authors, 177 years after they first sang it on Christmas Eve.

 

Never pressing for glory, never pressing for fame, it is fitting that these two servants of God’s Word remained in anonymity. For you see, it was never about them, it was the deeply theological and poetic description of the Nativity of Jesus Christ that was the focus, it is God’s love and proclamation of heavenly peace that was to endure.

What we will sing soon is actually half the original, and not in order, we will sing what was originally verses 1, 6, and 3. Hear it now, in full:

Silent night! Holy night!
All’s asleep, one sole light,
Just the faithful and holy pair,
Lovely boy-child with curly hair,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

 

Silent night! Holy night!
God’s son laughs, O how bright.
Love from your holy lips shines clear,
As the dawn of salvation near,
Jesus, Lord, at your birth!
Jesus, Lord, at your birth!

Silent night! Holy night!
Brought the world, peace tonight,
From the heavens’ golden height
Shows the grace of His holy might
Jesus, as man on this earth!
Jesus, as man on this earth!

 

Silent night! Holy night!
Where today all the might
Of His fatherly love us graced
And then Jesus, as brother embraced.
All the peoples on earth!
All the peoples on earth!

Silent Night! Holy night!
Long we hope that He might,
As our Lord, free us of wrath,
Since times of our father He hath
Promised to spare all mankind!
Promised to spare all mankind!

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds first see the sight.
Told by angelic Alleluia,
Sounding everwhere, both near and far:
Christ the Savior is here!
Christ the Savior is here!

 

This beautiful hymn has not the gusto of some other beloved carols, nor the deep contemplation of others, but this night, as we sing to close the night 200 years after first done the same, we can imagine and sense the awe and majesty that is significance of this birth. Christ, the Savior is born! Let that gentle peace wash over you and its simple assertion refresh you, you have redeeming grace in this child. This child will fall on a silent Friday night upon a cross and the news of angels will sing with alleluia, overcoming the darkness of the grave, radiating from His resurrected glorious face, is your redeeming grace. Now receive this child in body and blood that forgiven and restored you may sleep in heavenly peace. Merry Christmas. Amen.

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