Silent Night Stille Nacht In 1818, the St. Nicholas’ church organ in Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg wasn’t working and would not be repaired before Christmas. Pastor Josef Mohr recalled a poem he had written years before about the birth of Jesus and took it to 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, on that Christmas Eve, the little congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing Silent Night (in German of course) for the first time to the accompaniment of a guitar.
Weeks later the organ builder arrived to fix the organ. When Gruber tested the instrument by playing the song the organ builder was so deeply impressed that he took copies of the music and words back to his own Alpine village and introduced it to two families of singers — the Rainers and the Strassers — The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. Twenty years after “Silent Night” was written, the Rainers brought the song to the United States, singing it (in German) outside of New York City’s Trinity Church. In 1863, nearly fifty years after being first sung in German, “Silent Night” was translated into English. Eight years later, that English version made its way into print in Charles Hutchins’ Sunday School Hymnal. Today the words of “Silent Night” are sung in more than 300 different languages around the world.
The simple song transports the listener or singer to that quiet stable in Bethlehem where shepherds trembled at the sight of their Savior bathed in Heaven’s radiant light. The song is one of Christmas’ favorites likely due to the fact that the “heavenly peace” the song speaks to is so desired by all living beings. Yet as Mohr clearly states in the last words of the carol this peace is only available to those who make Jesus Lord.
Bethlehem Micah 5:2, Luke 2:1-18 The above prophecy and fulfillment scriptures reveal the place where Jesus—the “Prince of Peace” would be born. Bethlehem conjures up images of serene hillsides covered in sheep and shepherds, pristine countryside and sweet silent nights. If Bethlehem ever looked like that it sure doesn’t anymore! Bethlehem is full of congested tiny streets, thousands of people, wheeling and dealing everywhere, and then cramped in a corner off a busy street—The Church of the Nativity. The only church spared during the Persian invasion of 614 when the invaders saw a mosaic on the facade showing the Magi – the three kings- dressed in Persian robes. Considering the site already theirs, they left the basilica alone.
My wife and I, along with my daughter and a friend just got back from a eight day trip to Israel. Terryl, Michelle, Tony and I included Bethlehem as part of our tour. We entered the small door of the Church of the Nativity and found everything but “Heavenly Peace”. Hundreds of tourists and religious pilgrims were herded like cattle in a two and a half hour line winding back and forth like a Disney attraction. All the while we breathed in the constant bellows of the incense that the Coptic priests waved about us as they chanted and processed up and down the ornate altar. After having to practically wage war in order to keep our spots in line we came to a steep marble stair case that descended to a four foot door where we squeezed into the musky grotto to see where baby Jesus was born. The room was packed with people searching for that “Holy Night” but it wasn’t there. A silver fourteen pointed star marked the spot where Jesus was born, but I almost got stepped on as I knelt down to touch it. No time to contemplate that historic “silent night” so long ago. We had to keep moving—there were hundreds crowding in behind us. Soon we were outside the church in the busy city again—now with the screaming cries of a Muslim caller (muezzin) from the nearby minaret, summoning Muslims for the fifth mandatory worship (salat) of the day. Some Peace did finally come once we all got back safely on our tour bus and crossed the border back into Jerusalem.
Terryl, Michelle, Tony and I got home from Israel just one day before president Trump signed the declaration that the United States would officially acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that the United States Embassy would be relocating there. It has been surreal to watch the news and see the very streets we walked down ignited in riots. Not so many are touring Bethlehem today! It’s ironic. All of this where the “Prince of Peace” was born?
Illusive Peace Jeremiah 8:10b-12, Luke 2:14, John 14:27 People sing about, dream about, and fight about peace, but peace is an illusion without the “peacemaker” and I’m not talking about the gun (Colt .45 1832-1835). The prophet Jeremiah warned his people about perusing life without God and the disastrous consequences that would follow. These consequences have repeated themselves throughout times and peoples. History shows time and time again that apart from Christ there is no real or lasting peace. A church can’t bring it, icons won’t bring it, treaties won’t last. The angels at Jesus’ birth promised peace (Luke 2:14) but only “to those on whom His favor rests”. Jesus clarified that statement in John 14:27. Only Jesus can give peace. When we rest in Jesus, Jesus gives us peace.
Real Peace Isaiah 53:5-6, Philippians 2:8-11 The day after our “peaceless” tour of Bethlehem our tour group came upon the upper room where Jesus sat down with His disciples for the Last Supper. Oddly enough, no one was in that room but our tour group. There, our tour guide had us slowly sing Silent Night. It will now always be the most beautiful rendition of the song I’ve ever heard. Our voices echoed off of the very walls where Jesus said “Drink all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”. Matthew 26:27-28 “The punishment that brought us peace was on Him.” Isaiah 53:5b
Jesus’ birth alone did not bring peace or salvation and we can never find that “Heavenly Peace” without receiving the salvation that He brought us through His blood. The “dawn of His redeeming grace” has come. One day every knee will bow to Him, but His peace will only come to those, who like the shepherds, willfully bow to Him now. “Jesus, Lord at thy birth.”
The above message is by Barry Bruce, the senior pastor at The Gathering Church in Hawaiian Gardens. We invite you to come and visit some time at 22427 Norwalk Blvd., Hawaiian Gardens, CA 90716. You can also visit us at facebook.com/thegatheringchurch1