Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Christmas Nightmare

Christmas 1818 was rapidly approaching, and St. Nicholas Church in the Austrian village of Oberndorf bei Salzburg was facing a serious problem: their organ was broken, with no time to fix it before Christmas. The church leaders were scrambling to figure out what to do. It was Christmas Eve, and they were running out of options. Assistant priest Josef Mohr remembered a poem he had written two years earlier. He showed it to Franz Gruber, the church's organist and choirmaster, and asked if he could set to music. So it was that at Christmas Mass (the next day!), the two men sang the new song, with Mohr playing the guitar and the choir echoing the last two lines of each of the six verses. The first verse went like this:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab' im lockigen Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

The song looks back to that silent night when (verse 1) a young virgin brought a baby into the world. (Verse 2) The news was announced by angels to the astonished shepherds. With the amazing gift of that night, God sent His (verse 3) light, (4) grace and (5) peace, to (6) send His only Son to earth to free mankind of our plight and woes.

St. Nicholas Church had a rather major problem that Christmas in 1818, but it was nothing compared to the first Christmas in about 4 BC, when Mary, in an advanced stage of pregnancy, had to make a difficult journey by donkey to Joseph's ancestral home of Bethlehem for the Roman census. Not only did she have to go through a painful journey, but she had to endure rumors and gossip about the fact she was having a baby before getting married. Under normal circumstances, having a child out of wedlock was punishable by death in their culture. Joseph very nearly divorced her, and would have if it hadn't been for an angel appearing to him in a dream. If Mohr and Gruber had problems, Mary and Joseph had it much worse.

When Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem, all the inns were full and they had to improvise. When St. Nicholas Church's organ broke, Mohr and Gruber had to improvise. Never has a stable had so much in common with a guitar.

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.

Josef Mohr, painting photographed by Wikipedia user Werner100359

Franz Gruber, painted by Sebastian Stief in 1846

1 comment :

  1. Good job! It is amazing to see how God uses difficulties in our lives to result in blessings and teaching us about His goodness.