Isaiah 9:6 foretells the coming of the prince of peace.
“For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Silent Night is one of my favorite Christmas songs that we incorporate into worship during this season. I came across this story a few years back and wanted to share it with you.
Over two hundred years ago, Silent Night was sung at a service. The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. Father Joseph Mohr, a young priest, had come to Oberndorf the year before. He had written the song “Stille Nacht” in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his Father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as a co-adjutor. The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve mass. What inspired Mohr to write the lyrics is unknown or prompted him to create a new carol. In 1859, the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church, New York City, wrote and published the English translation that is most frequently sung today.
This one song has played its part in wars and peace, but why?
I remember a famous event from the battlefields of World War I.
On the western front, it was Christmas Eve 1914, where British and German forces faced each other in fierce fighting. The following is an excerpt from a letter written by a British soldier present on that night.
“I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see. “What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!” And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of goodwill. And then we heard their voices raised in song.
Stille nacht, heilige nacht.
This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated it: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon. When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.
The First Noel, the angel did say
In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their delicate harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . . .
Then we replied. O come all ye faithful . . . .
But this time, they joined in, singing the exact words in Latin.
Adeste fideles . . . .
British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more impressive—but what came next was more so.
“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. In minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!
Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home. As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—”Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow and even some talk of a football match.”
On Dec 24th, 1941, in the white house gardens, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were witnessed singing “Silent Night” together with crowds of people. Around the World, this Christmas, millions will sing this great song again in the hope of peace.
Reflecting upon this Christmas miracle of WWI, I ask myself, what could cause two opposing armies, fighting to the death, to lay down their arms and embrace each other as friends? Only Jesus. The same grace and mercy that first entered men’s hearts on another night more than two thousand years ago.
What would bring World Leaders together at the onset of WWII to sing this song?
The answer is only Jesus!
On that night, an angel announced to the world through a tiny band of shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14 KJV).
Those same shepherds found Mary, Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. As their weary eyes beheld Him, they witnessed the embodiment of God’s grace and mercy made flesh, and living among them, Christ Jesus!
May we follow the example of our heavenly Father, and like those British and German soldiers in the icy war-torn Belgium countryside, extend grace and mercy to all whose path we may cross. May we sing as Presidents and Prime ministers have before to the one that the angels declared as the prince of peace.