Liturgical Seasons/My Faith/Teen Faith

A Song about Silence?: the Story Behind “Silent Night”

Now therefore write this song, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me.” (Deuteronomy 31:19)

Christmas music is everywhere right now. It’s not uncommon to be standing in line at the grocery or in a convenience store this time of year, listening to the finest secular musicians belting out praise to a King they openly rejected on previous albums. Alas, maybe something “sunk in” while they recorded it, I hope. All hymns, carols and songs are not created equal, however, and it always intrigues me to find out when songs were written and why. Are artists just trying to create a hit or is there something deeper at work?

There are literally thousands of Christmas carols that have been created, sung, and echoed throughout the centuries. One of the most famous, “Silent Night,” was first penned and performed in the early part of the nineteenth century. Accounts vary regarding the events surrounding its composition and often feature exaggerated tales spun to romanticize its beginnings. One need only look online to see a sampling of such stories, each outdoing the next. The most popular explanation regarding the roots of the song suggest that it came to life out of necessity – as a broken organ in a tiny Austrian Church would have left Christmas Mass worshippers without any music.

What we do know for a fact is that Father Joseph Mohr, a priest, wrote the words and then asked his friend, the musician Franz Gruber, to add a melody and guitar accompaniment. They performed their composition in a small Catholic church in Oberndorf, a tiny Austrian village, sometime around 1818.

The hymn must have struck a chord (ooh, that’s a good pun) with Karl Mauracher, and organ builder and repairman from the area. Mauracher was so taken by the hymn that after he traveled to the church in Oberndorf, he asked for a copy of the composition and later shared it as he journeyed from place to place, fixing organs. For him it was more than a song; it was a prayer, and expression of praise offered for a living God who deserved to be praised. While the song was “silent,” it left an impression in his heart that was anything but.

Sometimes during the Advent season, I find myself focusing more on the notes of Christmas songs than on the music, more on the words than on their meaning. Sometimes I fall into the trap of “signing a song about Jesus” instead of praying a song in my worship of Jesus. This is a little difference that can make a big difference.

The next time you hear one of those Christmas carols in church or even in a department store, focus on the prayer wrapped in the melody. Look around you and offer a prayer for all those you see — both those you know and those you don’t know. You might share eternity with these people someday. Pray that they will allow the Lord into their lives, homes, and holidays.

And if you’re brave enough, sing a little. If people ask you why you’re singing, take a step out in faith and tell them why. Tell them that God loved you enough to become seemingly nothing so that He could offer us everything. Tell them that He looks past your unworthiness and sees worth. That’s what it means to pray a song, for every song about God (as this verse reminds us) should act as a witness of His greatness, His mercy, and His love.

A humble priest, an organist, and an organ repairman in a tiny town forever changed our Christmas celebrations. Imagine what one unknown but willing Christian from a little suburban neighborhood can do 200 years later, given the courage to pray a song.

Tonight might be a “silent night” in your world, but it doesn’t have to be. Proclaim that Jesus Christ is not just your Lord but the Lord of all.

– Taken from Ask the Bible Geek 2: More Answers to Questions from Catholic Teens, by Mark Hart

Image via FlickrCC 2.0, Logo added 

About the Author

Mark Hart

My childhood plan was to be a jedi. My teenage plan was to be on Saturday Night Live. God's plan was to have me in ministry. God won - and I'm glad He did.

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