As my wife and I look back at past Christmases, we remember when our little family used to sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve in church. Brodie was only 10, and daughter Shannon was 6, but each knew the song very well and could carry a tune. The congregation had no choice but to listen to our rendition of this great Christmas carol, for I was the senior pastor.
Those were special days for our family; we were so young and loved every moment surrounding Christmas. We chose Silent Night over other carols because of its pure harmony, beautiful words, clear message, and rich history, which I shared with my kids when they got older.
Josef Mohr, who wrote the lyrics to Silent Night, was a very humble and uncomplicated man born in Salzburg, Austria, on December 11, 1792. As he was referred to, Father Mohr was an Austrian priest who had a lovely tenor voice. Before becoming a priest, it was always his dream to become a professional singer. However, no real opportunity ever presented itself, so this moved him to dedicate his life to the priesthood. To the delight of his parents, his church was within traveling distance from his childhood home in Salzburg, so they could hear him preach and sing in his services regularly.
A couple of days before one of his Christmas services, Mohr sat in his study preparing for the sermon and music to follow when he heard a knock on the door. It was one of his parishioners from the hill country, a woodchopper. He came asking Mohr to go and minister to a sick family member.
Mohr immediately got up from his desk, put on a heavy coat and hiking boots. Then, he threw a wrap around his neck, picked up his walking stick for the long hike ahead, and said, “Let’s go.” For apart from being a very musically talented pastor, Mohr was also willing to serve others at a moment’s notice.
Throughout his steady and toiling climb, Mohr became more and more impressed with the silence of the night. As he looked up, there was a brilliant array of stars, yet so quiet, still, and peaceful.
Soon the window light in a woodchopper’s cottage came into sight, and in a few minutes, both of them entered into its warmth, for it was a frigid night. He prayed over and blessed the sick one and then ended by saying, “Jesus the Savior has come,” for the celebration of His birth was only two days away.
After returning, Mohr sat down in his study once again, but before reading through his notes, he gazed through his windows across at the mountain he had just climbed. Filled with a sense of inspiration, Mohr wondered if the night Jesus was born was just as beautiful and peaceful. Mohr began to write the words to the carol, Silent Night, from those thoughts.
Mohr rushed to see Franz Gruber, a friend, church member, and fellow musician the following day. When he read the first draft of his song to Franz, his face immediately brightened.
Franz said to Mohr, “This is the Christmas song I have said so many times had yet to be written, and you have found it.”
Mohr replied, “Please, provide the music to go along with it. Only you can write it, and then we can surprise the congregation at Christmas with this new song.”
Franz shook his head and said that the church organ was broken, so it would be challenging to develop a melody without it. Mohr then glanced about the room and saw a guitar tucked away in the corner. Picking it up, he said, “ Let this be your instrument at our Christmas service.”
Franz sat down with guitar in hand and began to work out a melody. As he played on, a softly flowing tune came to him. He began to score it, and when finished, a graceful movement and spirit seemed to blend with the words. From there on, a beautiful and unforgettable harmony was born.
Franz then came to Mohr’s study and played the notes he had created. Finally, they both began to sing Silent Night for the first time; it was perfect. And so, Silent Night was composed and arranged and has been sung ever since by millions upon millions of Christians.
From a humble and unpredictable beginning, a great melody was written. Can God not do the same with your life if you humbly follow Him? I think so, but as you wait on God, be as still and quiet as that night was when Jesus was born.
Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10
Silent Night, Holy Night