This month, I have been writing and teaching on Christmas carols, and the meaning in the songs. This week: Silent Night. This is one of the most beloved of Christmas carols. It has been translated into over 140 languages, has been declared a UNESCO cultural heritage song, and is the third best-selling single of all time.
The song “Silent Night” was written in 1816 by Father Joseph Mohr. In 1818, Mohr asked Franz Gruber to write music (melody and guitar accompaniment) for the Christmas Eve service at St. Nicholas church in Oberndorf, Austria. The organ had not broken down (that is legend not fact), and the song was always intended to be played on the guitar.
What stands out to me about this song is that we have no idea how accurate much of it is. Was it calm and bright around Jesus? It might have been. What if it was loud, noisy, and chaotic? That is a very real possibility, too. Mary had just given birth, cattle may have been nearby, and newborn babies are usually pretty loud! Probably, all was not calm and bright around the virgin mother and child. The shepherds did quake at the sight of the angels, but I am pretty sure radiant beams didn’t shine from the face of baby Jesus.
This song is an amazing picture of peace and silence, a reverent scene around the nativity. This is what we want to feel when we sing the song, even if it is not historically accurate. What we must remember is that God’s peace isn’t only in the silent, calm nights, but in the storms and struggles. God gives us peace and deep silence in the midst of our chaos and craziness. Still, the song works – not because it is perfectly accurate, but because it captures the real peace that God brings to us in our restless lives, even as we sing.