These are just one of dozens of different lyrics for the beloved hymn, “Silent Night” or in the original German, “Stille Nacht.” This year is the 200th anniversary of the first time that song was heard, on a Christmas Eve in 1818. I am fond of this one for the wording “Softly glitters bright Bethlehem’s star..”
There are many origin stories for this hymn but all of them focus around a single Christmas Eve evening and a somewhat urgent situation requiring a response, right now! Here’s one of my favorite versions:
“On Christmas Eve of 1818 the young priest of St. Nicholas parish church in Obendorf, Germany faced disaster. The organ had been incapacitated by mice. The chance of fixing the instrument before the evening service was nil. Father Joseph Mohr was not a man to just give up however. He pulled out a poem he had written several years before called “Stille Nacht”. Mohr took his poem to the schoolmaster and organist of a nearby town, Franz Xaver Gruber. He asked that Gruber write a melody to accompany the poem on guitar. In several hours, Gruber had the music done and the carol was played for the first time that night at the Christmas Eve service.”
Most of the stories follow the same theme, a poem left languishing suddenly brought to life due to some urgent need. I love the fact that this was first performed on a guitar and can just imagine the candle light in that church on a cold Christmas Eve, worshipers huddled together in anticipation of Christmas morning and then Gruber performs this soft, compelling song. If there was a dry eye in among the congregation I would be surprised.
There is another story surrounding this hymn, one that portrays our fragile human condition. It was during the Christmas truce in World War I. The soldiers on both sides in the awful, cold, trenches of that terrible war started to sing this song in English, French, and German across the desolate landscape of that battlefield, bringing the hope alive for a brief moment. As romantic as that sounds, the tragedy is that the war would rage on for another four years. We celebrated the 100th anniversary of the end of that war this Veterans Day.
This Advent, as we prepare ourselves for the birth of our savior, we are going to journey through this beloved hymn. We are going to start a search for our own “Star of Bethlehem,” trying hard to reconnect with our faith, with what it means to “follow.” We will explore the challenges of following a star, or Christ, just as the shepherds and magi did. We will ask the questions:
How do we know if we are following the right star?
How can something that seems so far away steer us to finding our faith?
When we hear the angels calling, will we be afraid or filled with joy?
Finally, how do we receive the “abundant grace” promised in this hymn?
Our Advent Series Begins on December 2nd and will end on Christmas Eve.
December 2nd – How do we use silence to connect with God? (from verse 1 “all is calm, all is bright”)
December 9th – How do we relate to the shepherds, who were at first fearful? (verse 2 “Shepherds quake at the sight!”)
December 16th – How do we share “Loves pure light in our life?” (verse 3)
December 23rd – Can we appreciate the grace given through Jesus? (Verse 4 “Abundant grace for our intent”)
December 24th Christmas Eve, 6pm Family Candlelight Service
So, plan your Sunday’s ahead. We are going to listen for our own “Stille Nacht.” We are going on a journey, guided by a star, shining so brightly, I promise we wont get lost along the way.