Silent Night

October 17th, 2013

She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. —Luke 2:7

On December 24, 1818, a young, inexperienced priest at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria, faced a problem that threatened to spoil his first holiday worship service. The church’s ancient organ would not play, and nothing he did could pull even a solitary note from the instrument. With the clock ticking and panic fueling his movements, he raced across town to share his story with his best friend. Franz Gruber calmed Father Joseph Mohr and then proposed they substitute a guitar for the broken organ. Mohr sadly shook his head explaining a guitar would not work with any of the Christmas music he’d picked out. The school teacher then suggested they write something new. As fortune would have it, Mohr remembered a poem he had penned two years before on a snowy walk through the woods. The two took that poem, set it to music, and saved the Christmas Eve service with their new song, “Silent Night.”

The song was never intended to be used again; it was simply a stopgap measure to head off a disaster. And today we would likely not know “Silent Night” if a man had not come to fix the church organ. The traveling repairman inquired about music used on Christmas Eve, and Mohr played the new song for him. Over the next two decades, in the course of his work, the organ repairman took the composition to hundreds of churches all over Europe. Twenty years later, Joseph Mohr, who had almost forgotten about his song, was shocked when, walking by a large German church, he heard hundreds of voices singing “Silent Night.”

“Silent Night” has become one of the world’s bestknown songs. It has been translated into more than a hundred languages and is a musical anchor of the holiday season. The inspired message found in its lyrics brings the first Christmas to life in ways that few other songs can. Yet the man who wrote it had nothing to do with the song being spread all over the world. Until he heard it while walking by that German church, he never realized the impact of his work. Joseph Mohr never served a huge congregation. He never became a bishop or a cardinal. He did not write books, tour the world, or speak in front of huge gatherings. On the surface, his life seemed to matter little. He was just a pastor trying his best to lead to his flock. But imagine the world without “Silent Night.”

We do things that cause ripples in the ponds of life. Even if we don’t know it, people are impacted by our actions and our words. Just like an organ repairman took “Silent Night” to the world, someone might be so influenced by what we do that they will share that story with hundreds of others. So we must be constantly aware of how we live our lives. In a world filled with negative influences, raging voices, and those preaching division, we need to be the person who reflects Christ in our words and deeds. The message of our lives might well become the song that touches millions we never meet.

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