Year C; Christmas Day; 12.25.2018
In 20011 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, added the Christmas Carol, “Silent Night” to its World Heritage List. The president of Austria’s Silent Night Society was quoted as saying this at the time, “This is a song of freedom for the world, whose beautiful melody and text have inspired versions in more than 300 languages.”
“Silent Night” was sung for the first time at St. Nicholas Church near Salzburg, Austria on Christmas Eve, 1818. The words were written by Father Joseph Mohr and the music was composed by the church organist Franz Gruber.
In his 1854 memoir Franz Gruber wrote that the carol had met with “general approval by the congregation, which included boat builders and shipping laborers. That night, Father Mohr accompanied the singing on the guitar because the organ was not working.”
Much has been written this year about the 200thanniversary of the first singing of “Silent Night.” Indeed, this carol has been the calming force in the lives of those who sing it. One of my favorite stories is the “Christmas Truce” from WWI. On Christmas Eve, the Germans and Americans, not very far from each other’s lines of attack, stopped their fighting and made their observance of Christmas. In the stillness of the night, they could hear each other sing, “Stille Nacht…” “Silent Night” each to the familiar tune. I remember as a teenager going caroling at a nursing home. We sang “Silent Night” and could see how it moved the residents to tears.
For many people, one of the great attractions bringing them back to church on Christmas Eve is the singing of “Silent Night” by candlelight. Last night, we did just that at both services. Randy played the beginning notes of “Silent Night,” the lights dimmed and we started lighting the candles of the people in the pews. The church was aglow with soft, golden light. And we sang sweetly and softly the words to what is essentially a gentle lullaby announcing the arrival of God’s “redeeming grace” in the world, the child Jesus.
I think that is my favorite verse, now that I’m an adult. The Redeeming Grace of God’s Son is something I hope for, I count on. “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.”
And that “redeeming grace” is extended by God to all people. Particularly to those who are suffering, poor and whose families are torn apart at borders. To those who are alone, depressed, addicted and in recovery. To those who “work or watch or weep” in the “silent nights” the rest of us enjoy.
For a brief moment in our lives we pause, look to the manger and reverently, quietly, joyfully regard what God has done for us – and for the world. God has sent “love’s pure light” to us. We can take a deep breath this morning and give thanks for the tender redeeming grace and God’s love come to us in pure light. And we embrace our duty to help others see and know this redeeming grace and love.
How do we as Christians put “Silent Night” into action for the relief of suffering? Just a glance at the morning news gives us the terrible suffering of starving children in Yemen, the Indonesian tsunami that has killed hundreds and displaced thousands, the children living by themselves in camps at our southern border, people of color suffering from institutionalized racism, a planet in increasing jeopardy, the aged and invisible, victims of violence and war, our neighbors who are hungry and homeless.
This Christmas Day, we celebrate with deep joy the birth of the “Holy Infant, Tender and Mild,” God’s Son. And, at the same time, we lift our voices in prayer asking for relief of those who are suffering.
If “Silent Night” is an international carol of freedom for all, how can our lives actually BE the carol of “Silent Night”?