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“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” (Ephesians 2:17)

Our family recently received an animated e-card from an old friend. It portrayed characters passing the light of a candle one to the other with a hymn playing in the background, just as many will experience on Christmas Eve. A personalized message from our friend at the end said, “Sending you one of my favorite songs to wish you Merry Christmas.” The song, “Silent Night” has become one of the most cherished Christmas carols of all time. It was first performed on Christmas Eve, 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in Austria. A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come there one year earlier. He had written the lyrics of the song “Stille Nacht” in 1816. Mohr brought his words to Franz Gruber, a musician friend, and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for that year’s Christmas Eve mass. According to Gruber – an organ builder and repairman was enamored with the song after he heard it performed, and he took a copy of the composition home with him. From there, the carol began an unexpected journey as it slowly circulated around the world. Because the original document had been lost – Mohr’s name was forgotten, and it was assumed the melody was compiled by one of the many famous composers of that era. It was not until 1995 that a manuscript was discovered in Mohr’s handwriting confirming that he wrote the lyrics in 1816 . . . a poem about the night when angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on a hillside.

We sometimes forget that God moves powerfully in quiet, humble settings. Perhaps He sent the gentle whisper of an angel to allure the emotion of an organ repairman with a new song who sent it on a journey and into the hearts of people everywhere. Its words flowed from the imagination of a modest poet. The music was composed by a musician who was not known outside his village. There was no celebrity to sing at its world premiere. In that same quiet manner, God stepped into our world through a baby born in an obscure village. It was there that a host of angels praised Him from the Heavens before a group of unnoticeable shepherds delivering a powerful message of heavenly peace (Luke 2:13-14). We must never be surprised to learn that when God is involved in the details, we should come to expect the unexpected. Consider that Joseph, a humble carpenter, and Mary would have barely had enough money to make the round trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the census (Luke 2:1-5). Unpredictably, their plans changed when “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,’ the angel said. ‘Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him’” (Matthew 2:13). One might logically ask the question as to how they could have afforded this unexpected trip?  But, don’t forget! They were given three gifts from the Magi, otherwise known as the Wise Men. While their gifts had spiritual significance, they were also practical and would have had financial value. It would have been easy to exchange gold, and the aromatic spices could have been sold at market.  Some scholars believe these gifts were simply God’s provision for the funds which would have been needed to flee to Egypt and to begin raising a baby in a foreign, land.  Once again . . . quietly touched and directed by an angel sent from God.

So often, our Christmas celebrations are anything but silent. There was undoubtedly some commotion as well on that first Christmas night. Anyone who has experienced the miracle of childbirth knows there can be a lot of noise involved in welcoming a newborn into the world. It’s beautiful, even sacred, but it is not quiet. While in many ways, this was an ordinary family in an ordinary town tucked away in a very ordinary stable. And yet there was nothing ordinary about this birth, this night, or this boy. If we dare to take time to retreat from our personal chaos and imagine what it would have been like to join the shepherds at the manger, then perhaps we will hear a new call to silence. He sings our souls to sleep and gives us rest in the peace only He can provide. And when we wake in the morning, we will once again meet the dawn of redeeming grace . . . all because of a precious birth one silent night.

REFLECTION: When, if at all, have you experienced silence in your celebrations of Christmas? Why is finding silence an appropriate response to God’s holiness? What changes might you have to make in your holiday traditions in order to find the peace and silence necessary to find the true reason for the season?


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