“Silent Night, Holy Night”

“SILENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT”
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2.11)

     INTRO.: A hymn which is based on the events surrounding the birth of the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David is “Silent Night, Holy Night” (#440 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text, in six stanzas, was written by Joseph Mohr, who was born at Salzburg, Austria, on Dec. 11, 1792. As a boy he sang at the cathedral in Salzburg.  Becoming a priest of the Roman Catholic Church in 1815, he worked with various churches in the Salzburg area. From Aug. 25, 1817, until Oct. 19, 1819, he served as assistant at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf in the Alpine section of Austria. It has been genereally believed that on Dec. 24, 1818, the 26-year old minister, moved by the beauty of the still, clear mountain nights, decided to produce a new song to be used at a special “Christmas eve” service at the church. The tune (Stille Nacht) was composed by the acting music director of the church and schoolteacher in the nearby village of Arnsdorf named Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863). Supposedly the church organ was broken and the melody had to be played on a guitar.  The hymn was first sung that night. However, an old manuscript has reportedly been found which shows that Gruber produced the score two to four years after Mohr penned the lyrics, so some consider the traditional story to be folklore.  In any event, the following year Karl Mauracher of Zillerthal, and organ maker, came to Oberndorf to repair the organ and heard about the new song. Securing a copy, he was responsible over the next several years for spreading it throughout the Tirol region, referring to it simply as a Tirolean folksong. The Stasser family, also of Zillerthal, who were glove makers and folk singers, became familiar with the song, singing it when they visited Leipzig for a fair in 1831 and again at a concert there the following year. A Dresden musician named Friese heard it at one of the concerts, copied it down, and took it to Berlin, Germany. The earliest known manuscript dates from 1833, and the first published appearance was in the 1838 Katholisches Leipziger Gesangbuch. It was first heard in the United States when a family of Tirolean singers, the Rainers, used it during their concert tour of 1839. Following several other appointments, Mohr went to Hintersee in 1828, and to Wagrein, near St. Johann, Austria, in 1838, where he lived until his death there on Dec. 4, 1848.

     The first known English translation was made for the 1849 Methodist compilation The Devotional Harmonist by J. W. Warner, and many of our books have used it. This rendition is as follows:
1. “Silent night! hallowed night! All is dark, save the light
Yonder, where they sweet vigils keep O’er the Babe who, in silent sleep,
Rests in heavenly peace, Rests in heavenly peace.”
2. “Silent night! hallowed night! Land and deep silent sleep!
Softly glitters bright Bethlehem’s star, Beckoning Israel’s eye from afar,
Where the Savior is born, Where the Savior is born.”
3. “Silent night! hallowed night! On the plain wakes the strain,
Sung by heavenly harbingers bright, Fraught with tidings of boundless delight:
Christ the Savior has come, Christ the Savior has come.”
4. “Silent night! hallowed night! Earth, awake! silence break!
High your anthems of melody raise! Heaven and earth in full chorus of praise!
Peace forever shall reign, Peace forever shall reign.”

     The more familiar translation is taken from John Clark Hollister’s The Sunday School Service and Tune Book, published at New York City, NY, in 1863, and was made by John Freeman Young (1820-1885). In 1966, an arrangement, using Young’s first stanza and combining thoughts from others in two additional ones, was made by Lloyd Otis Sanderson (1901-1992). His version of stanzas two and three are as follows:
2. “Silent night! holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight.
Wise men ponder heaven’s bright star, Angels singing their ‘Hallelujah!’
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.”
3. “Silent night! holy night! Son of God, lend Thy light;
With the hosts we joyfully sing, ‘Glory, honor, to Jesus our King!’
Christ the Savior was born, Christ the Savior was born.”
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song, in one form or another, appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 (both with Warner’s translation) edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 (Warner) and the 1966 Christian Hymn’s No. 2 (Sanderson’s arrangement) both edited by L. O. Sanderson; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church (Warner), the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns (Sanderson) edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; as well as Hymns for Worship (Sanderson).

     The song discusses several of the events surrounding the birth of Christ and seeks to make application of them to us.

I. Stanza 1 talks about the actual birth of Jesus to Mary in Bethlehem
“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.”
 A. We do not know exactly what time of day Jesus was born, but we do know that right after it is mentioned, the Bible says that shepherds were abiding in the fields at night: Lk. 2.8
 B. The Bible definitely teaches that His mother was a virgin when she conceived and even when He was born: Matt. 1.18-25
 C. Her holy infant, so tender and mild, was laid to rest in a manger: Lk. 2.1-7

II. Stanza 2 talks about the shepherds in the fields
“Silent night, holy night! Darkness flies, all is light;
Shepherds hear the angels sing, ‘Alleluia! hail the King!
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.'”
 A. Darkness fled because suddenly the glory of the Lord shone round about them: Lk. 2.9
 B. Then the shepherds heard the angel announce good tidings (whether speaking or singing it makes no difference): Lk. 2.10
 C. The good tiding is that the Word, who was with God, became flesh to dwell among us: Jn. 1.1, 14

III. Stanza 3 talks about the angels
“Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar; Heavenly hosts sing, ‘Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.'”
 A. The shepherds had reason to quake because a host of angels appeared, and their announcement proves that the Child born was a special one: Lk. 2.13-20
 B. The word “alleluia” means “praise ye Jehovah”: Rev. 19.1
 C. To say that “Christ the Savior is born” means that God was manifest in the flesh: 1 Tim. 3.16

IV. Stanza 4 talks about the benefits for us of Christ’s birth
“Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant, beams from Thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.”
 A. Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God: Jn. 20.30-31
 B. Also, He is the light of the world: Jn. 8.12
 C. Therefore, because Jesus was born, lived, died, and was resurrected, it is possible for sinful mankind to have redemption through the grace of God: Eph. 1.3-7, 2.8-9

V. Stanza 5 talks about the coming of the wise men from the east
“Silent night, holy night! Guiding star, send thy light.
See the eastern wise men bring Gifts of homage to our King!
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.”
 A. It was a star that guided the wise men to Jesus: Matt. 2.1-2
 B. When they found the Child, they gave Him gifts of homage: Matt. 2.3-12
 C. The visit of the wise menis important because it signifies that the coming of Christ was universal because He was to be King for all mankind: Rev. 11.15, 17.14

VI. Stanza 6 talks about our need to praise God for the birth of His Son
“Silent night, holy night! Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing ‘Alleluia’ to our King;
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.”
 A. Even though we cannot see the star that lighted the path of the wise men, we have the light of God in His word: Ps. 119.105, 130
 B. Because of the blessings that Jesus brought into the world, we should join our voices with those of the angels who were commanded to worship Him: Heb. 1.6
 C. Therefore, we should offering thanksgiving and praise to God for sending His Son: Heb. 13.15

     CONCL.: This song is often thought of as a “Christmas carol” because of its subject and especially the circumstances of its origin.  But nowhere does it even mention the word “Christmas,” nor does it affirm that Christ was “born in Christmas day.” If we can sing about the various other aspects of Christ’s earthly sojourn and related activities–His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming–there can surely be nothing wrong with occasionally singing about His birth and what happened on that “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

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2 thoughts on ““Silent Night, Holy Night”

  1. I’ve got some doubts about the three spurious verses – the verse about the darkness that flees, and the two verses about the star. Admittedly these weren’t part of the original carol but added by the editors of the various American hymnals.
    I’d feel a little uncomfortable thinking that this can be treated like a lusty congregational hymn when it would be better as a lullaby for the choir to sing.

    Reply
  2. Because this hymn has undergone so many arrangements, translations, and other variations, it is difficult to know precisely what is original with Mohr and what is not. Usually stanzas 1, 3, 4, and 6 are given as the standard translation by Freeman Young of Mohr’s hymn.
    As I explained previously, New Testament churches of Christ do not have special choirs but seeking to follow the pattern revealed for the church in God’s word, have only congregational singing. A congregation can be quiet and reverential in it singing just as easily as it can be lusty.

    Reply

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