Have you known a night so dark that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face? Have you experienced a night so silent that you heard your own heart beat? Nights like these were common in the fields near Bethlehem. It was an ancient time before electricity and technology brought a surplus of light and noise into the world.
Imagine shepherds in the fields on such a dark night. Suddenly, the sky tears open and a bright light shines down upon them. The shepherds are terrified. Where is the light coming from? Are they about to die? Then an angel emerges from the radiant glow and proclaims, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:10-14 KJV). The black, silent night had become the Holy Night — the night that the Savior, the Messiah, the Holy One came into the world!
This was the night that Father Joseph Mohr imagined when, in 1816, he wrote the lyrics to “Silent Night” in the form of a poem. It is believed that Mohr was living in Mariapfarr in the Alpine Lungau region of Salzburg, Austria, when he wrote it. Two years later, he was called to serve the parish of St. Nicola in Oberndorf. There he became acquainted with the church organist Franz Xaver Gruber.
The legend goes that the church organ was broken on Christmas Eve 1818. Mohr presented Gruber with his “Silent Night” poem, and the two of them quickly composed a tune for two solo voices and the choir to be accompanied by a guitar. The song was performed for the first time that Christmas Eve in St. Nicola Church in Oberndorf. The rest, as they say, is history.
Several years ago, I came across an amazing web site, StilleNach.info. Its aim is to educate about the origin of the famous carol. Here, you will find links to information about Mohr and Gruber, the original sheet music, the Silent Night Museum, and much more.
The most interesting link on the site is the Silent Night Chapel, a small memorial chapel built on the place where St. Nicola church once stood. Each year, thousands of tourists visit the chapel, and each year on Christmas Eve there is a short service that ends with the singing of the beloved carol as it was originally composed. The web site features a live web cam. Best of all, the Christmas Eve service is broadcast live each year. Try not to miss it this December 24th. It will leave you wanting to travel to Austria for next year’s celebration.
Christmas Eve is near – that night, that silent, holy night when the Light of the World swept the darkness away. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 KJV) Let us rejoice and be glad!
Dear Father: We thank you for the Holy Night when you sent your Son into the world to save us from our sins. As we rejoice and celebrate, fill our hearts with love for our Savior. In His name we pray. Amen