As the sun sets tonight, we celebrate something special. A couple of things, actually. We remember the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the Son of God. May we never tire of telling His story.
But there is something else to remember tonight. Two hundred years ago, a song was sung for the very first time. It was Christmas Eve 1818, in the church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf near Salzburg, Austria, that “Silent Night” was sung for the very first time. Tonight, the song is officially 200 years old.
The words to “Silent Night” were the work of the Rev. Joseph Mohr, a young priest in Oberndorf. He wrote them in 1816 as a reflection on peace after a summer of violence in Salzburg. The poem sat on a shelf for two years.
In 1818, a roving band of actors was performing in towns throughout the Austrian Alps. On December 23, they arrived at Oberndorf, where they were to re-enact the story of Christ’s birth in the small Church of St. Nicholas.
Unfortunately, the St. Nicholas’ church organ wasn’t working and would not be repaired before Christmas. Because the church organ was out of commission, the actors presented their Christmas drama in a private home. That Christmas “pageant” put assistant pastor Josef Mohr in a meditative mood. Instead of walking straight to his house that night, Mohr took a longer way home. The longer path took him up over a hill overlooking the village.
From that hilltop, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village. Reveling in majestic silence of the wintry night, Mohr gazed down at the glowing Christmas card-like scene. His thoughts about the Christmas play he had just seen made him remember a poem he had written a couple of years before. That poem was about the night when angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on a hillside.
Mohr decided those words might make a good carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service. The one problem was that he didn’t have any music to which that poem could be sung. So, the next day Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Xaver Gruber. Gruber only had a few hours to come up with a melody which could be sung with a guitar. However, by that evening, Gruber had managed to compose a musical setting for the poem. It no longer mattered to Mohr and Gruber that their church organ was inoperable. They now had a Christmas carol that could be sung without that organ.
On Christmas Eve, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing their new composition to the accompaniment of Gruber’s guitar. The rest is history.
Before the entrance of the angelic army to the hills of Judea, the night was as silent as ever. But all that changed with the arrival of the Child. Jesus changed their lives and He has changed ours, too. What began in silence ended in raucous celebration. Tonight, let the arrival of the Son turn this silent night into a night that changes everything. Rejoice, the Savior has been born. Today.