Silent Night

A Beautiful Story

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Years ago my little family (Kent, online Myrna, Brodie {10 years old}, Shannon {6 years old})  used to sing Silent Night during the Christmas Eve Service at our church in Thornton, Colorado.   The congregation had no choice but to listen to our rendition of Silent Night, for I was the senior pastor.   These were special days for our family; we were so young and loved every moment surrounding Christmas.  Our family chose Silent Night over other carols, because of its simple harmony, beautiful words, and rich history.   Here is a brief history of this great Christmas carol.

Father Josef Mohr was a simple soul.  Born in Salzburg on December 11, 1792, this Austrian priest was endowed with a lovely tenor voice and it had been his dream to become a professional singer.  Lack of opportunity caused him to dedicate his life to the priesthood and, to the delight of his parents, he was chosen to fill the pulpit at the Church of Saint Nikola, in the lonely village of Oberndork near by.

The villagers were proud of their organist, Francis Xavier Gruber, who also presided as choir- and schoolmaster.  It was their joy for Father Mohr to sing in his tenor with Gruber and his splendid double-deep bass.  The folk passing and listening would say, “The Pastor and the Teacher are singing again.”

It was the day before Christmas Eve and the Austrian Alps were enfolded by a twilight hush when Father Mohr, sitting in his study, heard knocking on the door.  It was a parishioner from the hills, requesting a visit to the sick.  After giving refreshment to his visitor, he donned his heavy sheepskin boots, warm brown mantle, and grasping his alpenstock he set out for the long walk that lay ahead.  Throughout the steady, toiling climb, Josef Mohr was impressed with the silence of the night where, above the snow, the marvelous canopy of heaven was brilliant with stars.  On every side were giant evergreens bedecked in white, proclaiming the everlasting symbol of eternal life.  Soon the window light in a woodchopper’s cottage gleamed ahead and in a few minutes he had entered its warmth.  He blessed the sick, saying “Jesus the Savior is here;” then he smiled at his inspiration when he remembered how close it was to Christmas Eve.

The return journey made, and preparing to rest after the arduous walk, Father Mohr gazed through the leaded panes of his study window across the mountains.  Possessed with a satisfying sense of holiness by the serenity of the scene, he murmured, “It must have been like this, on that Silent Holy Night in Bethlehem.”  In this mood he sat at his desk and commenced the lines: “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.”

The next morning at nine o’clock, the day before Christmas, Father Mohr presented himself at the home of his good friend Gruber and read the first draft of his song.  As he read it, the organist’s face brightened, his joy was manifest at the beauty of the written words. “Pastor, this is the Christmas Song that I have said so many times had yet to be written, and you have found it.”

The Modest Priest replied that without a sweetly sympathetic melody the song would be lost.  “Please provide the music, Herr Gruber.  Only you can write it and we can surprise the folk with a new Christmas song.”  Franz Gruber shook his head, and then said, “The church organ has broken down, mice are in the bellows and the reeds are choked.”  Father Mohr glanced about the room and on the wall he espied a guitar.  Lifting it down he said to the choirmaster,” Let this be your instrument.”  Gruber replied, “So shall it be,” and with a handshake they parted, each to his duties.  Left in silence, the organist sat down with the instrument, and after a short tune-up preamble he re-read the manuscript before him and his fingers began to caress the strings.  As he idly played on, a softly flowing melody came to him out of the silence of the house.  He began to score the tune, lovely in movement and spirit that seemed to blend as one with the words, until he finally achieved the imperishable harmony

Later in the day, at Oberndorf, Gruber appeared with the ancient guitar, and entering the warm study he commenced the sweetly tender strains.  Josef Mohr was transported at what seemed to be a celestial melody.  Gruber played the notes through once again and the two men joined their voices, fine tenor and deep bass, to the first vocal rendition of the hymn that was to know adoration of all people, everywhere, forever.  As the last strains of the blended voices were finally lost in the silence of the study, unknown audiences already seemed to listen for the echo, and to God-speed it on its way through the ages.

Twenty-seven years later, the summer of the year 1819 faded into autumn.  As the season wore on, the Elders of the Church at Oberndorf called in an organ repairman from  Zillerthal, to give voice once more to the instrument.  After much wheezing and exertion, the organ stood forth in its glory of shining pipes and clear reeds; the bellows rose and fell once more, and were free of mice.  The heart of the organ repairman filled with desire so that he called out, “Herr Gruber play a hymn or favorite tune.” Franz Gruber, recalling the almost forgotten manuscript from his desk, played an impressive introduction, and then proceeded softly to fill the dim spaces of the old Church.  “Such a glorious carol,” cried the repairman, “from whence did it come?” Franz Gruber said, “It is Father Mohr’s and mine.  It is our Christmas song.”

STILLE NACHT (Silent Night) went on to become one of the most celebrated Christmas carols sung throughout both Europe and America.     Many Christians consider it today as the most expressive carols describing the atmosphere surrounding the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.   It is sung with great heart by millions of Christians every year.

STILLE NACHT, HEILIGE NACHT

Silent Night, Holy Night

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.

Silent night! Holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight!

Glories stream from heaven afar,

Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia;

Christ, the Savior is born,

Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night! Holy night!

Son of God, love’s pure light;

radiant beams from they holy face,

with the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus Lord at thy birth,

Jesus Lord at Thy birth.