Hymn Parade – Silent Night – 199th anniversary in 2017

Hymn Parade – Silent Night by Rev. Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber (1818)

How does this song inspire your faith in the real news that Jesus Christ lived with us here on earth?

Video: https://vimeo.com/151626980

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbm8IQ_G_-c (Guitar version from St. Nicholas’ Church in Obendorf)

Silent night! holy night! All is calm, all is bright, ‘Round yon virgin mother and Child! Holy Infant, so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace. 

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht! Alles schläft, einsam wacht nur das traute hochheilige Paar, Holder Knabe mit lockigem Haar, schlaf im himmlischer Ruh. 

This is the 199th anniversary year of the hymn Silent Night, which UNESCO declared as a global cultural icon in 2011. It is the world’s most popular Christmas song and proclaims the historic birth of Jesus Christ. The hymn was first sung in St. Nicholas’ Roman Catholic Church in Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, Austria in 1818. A group of actors presented a play about the Christmas story in a small home because the organ in the church was not functional.

Silent night, holy night! All are asleep; alone awake only the faithful and most holy pair, Gentle boy with curly hair, sleep in heavenly peace.  (The original poem)

The young priest, Josef Mohr asked Franz Gruber, the organist at St. Nicholas to write a melody and to include the song as part of the Christmas Eve worship. Since the church organ was broken, the song was sung with a guitar. Austria and Europe were rebuilding three years after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

It was sometime in January when the organ was repaired by Karl Mauracher that Franz Gruber played the simple melody to test the repairs on the organ. Karl Mauracher took a copy of the music with him and shared it with another family singing group, the Strasser sisters. The hymn did not go viral until 1840 when it was performed for King William IV of Prussia in Berlin. In 1839, the hymn was sung (in German) outside Trinity Church in New York City at the gravesite of Alexander Hamilton. In 1863, the same year that President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday following the battle of Gettysburg, Silent Night was translated to English. Today it has been translated into over 300 languages!

rainer     Silent Night at the gravesite of Alexander Hamilton at Trinity Church, NYC

From the Introduction in the sermon Martin Luther preached on the afternoon of December 25, 1530:

“You have heard today the story from the Gospel of St. Luke of how it came to pass that our Lord Christ was born and then also the message of the angel, who announced who the boy was who was born. Now we shall go on and take up the message of the angel. So for today you have heard only that the child was born that he is the Lord and Savior. Thus we spoke of the story, how it unfolded, and who the persons in it were. This article is so high that even today it is believed by only a few. Nevertheless, God has preserved it even through those who have not believed it. For at all times in the monasteries and lectures which dealt with the fact that Christ the Lord, born of Mary, is true man and God. But it went no further than saying and hearing it. But this belief is held by the devil too and Turks and all the godless among the Christians, and is the kind of belief which everybody believes that it is true but would not die for it, as Eck and many others show today. If they had as much from Christ and the teaching of the gospel as from the devil, they would also think as much of Christ. The Turk too admits that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, that Mary was an immaculate virgin, and that Christ was more than a man; but the Word of God, as it is given in the gospel, he denies, and yet I fear that the Turk believes more of this article than does the pope. Therefore it is a high article to believe that this infant, born of Mary, is true God; for nobody’s reason can ever accept the fact that he who created heaven and earth and is adored by the angels was born of a virgin. That is the article. Nobody believes it except he who also knows this faith, namely, that this child is the Lord and Savior.

But for whom was he born and whose Lord and Savior is he? The angels declare that he was born Lord and Savior. The Turks, the pope, and the scholars say the same thing, but only to the extent that it brings in money and honor. But that anyone could say “to you is born,” as the angel says, this is the faith which we must preach about. But we cannot preach about it as we would like to do.

Indeed, who could ever grasp (the full meaning of) these words of the evangelist: “a Savior, who is the Lord,” and, “to you”! I know well enough how to talk about it and what to believe about it, just as others do. So there are many who have this belief and do not doubt this first belief that Christ is the Lord, the Savior, and the virgin’s Son. This I too have never doubted. But if these words are planted no higher than in my thoughts, then they have no firm roots. We are certain that this was proclaimed by the angel, but the firm faith does not follow. For the reason does not understand both sides of this faith, first that Christ is a man, but also the Savior and Lord or King. This needs to be revealed from heaven. One who really has the first faith also has the other.

Who, then, are those to whom this joyful news is to be proclaimed? Those who are faint-hearted and feel the burden of their sins, like the shepherds, to whom the angels proclaim the message, letting the great lords in Jerusalem, who do not accept it go on sleeping. Beyond the first faith there must be the second faith, that Christ is not only the virgin’s Son, but also the Lord of angels and the Savior of men. The words anyone can understand, anti-sacramentarians, fanatics, sectarians, and Turks; but they do not proceed from the heart, they come only from hearing and go no farther than hearing. This is not faith, however, but only a memory of what has been heard, that one knows that he has heard it. Nobody ventures it, so as to stake goods, life, and honor upon it. And yet we must preach it for the sake of those who are in the multitude to whom the angel preached.

This is our theology, which we preach in order that we may understand what the angel wants. Mary bore the child, took it to her breast and nursed it, and the Father in heaven has his Son, lying in the manger and the mother’s lap. Why did God do all this? Why does Mary guard the child as a mother should? And reason answers: in order that we may make an idol of her, that honor may be paid to the mother. Mary becomes all this without her knowledge and consent, and all the songs and glory and honor are addressed to the mother. And yet the text does not sound forth the honor of the mother, for the angel says, “I bring to you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior” (Luke 2:10,11). I am to accept the child and his birth and forget the mother, as far as this is possible, although her part cannot be forgotten, for where there is a birth there must also be a mother. Nevertheless, we dare not put our faith in the mother but only in the fact that the child was born. And the angel desired that we should see nothing but the child which is born, just as the angels themselves, as though they were blind, which is born, just as the angels themselves, as though they were blind, saw nothing but the child born of the virgin, and desired that all created things should be as nothing compared with this child, that we should see nothing, be it harps, gold, goods, honor, power, and the like, which we would prefer before their message.

For if I receive even the costliest and best in the world, it still does not have the name of Savior. And if the Turk were ten times stronger than he is, he could not for one moment save me from my infirmity, to say nothing of the peril of death, and even less from the smallest sin or from death itself. In my sin, my death, I must take leave of all created things. No, sun, moon, stars, all creatures, physicians, emperors, kings, wise men and potentates cannot help me. When I die I shall see nothing but black darkness, and yet that light, “To you is born this day the Savior” (Luke 2:11), remains in my eyes and fills all heaven and earth. The Savior will help me when all have forsaken me. And when the heavens and the stars and all creatures stare at me with horrible mien, I see nothing in heaven and earth but this child. So great should that light which declares that He is my Savior become in my eyes….”

(From the Conclusion) “What we have said, then, has been about that second faith, which is not only to believe in Mary’s Son, but rather that he who lies in the virgin’s lap is our Savior, that you accept this and give thanks to God, who so loved you that he gave you a Savior who is yours. And for a sign he sent the angel from heaven to proclaim him, in order that nothing else should be preached except that this child is the Savior and far better than heaven and earth. Him, therefore, we should acknowledge and accept confess him as our Savior in every need, call upon him, and never doubt that he will save us from all misfortune. Amen.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

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