Go into any store, restaurant, or other consumer establishments shortly after Thanksgiving ends, and you’re sure to hear familiar tunes over the bustling crowds that only show up once every year. In between “Jingle Bells” and “Silver Bells,” there’s a good chance you’ll hear no bells at all; there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself thoughtlessly humming along to the humble story penned in “Silent Night.” I say thoughtlessly not because you’re a thoughtless person, but because familiarity with something can often cause us to overlook its significance. How many hundreds of thousands of people sing “Silent Night” every year as part of their Christmas traditions, but ultimately skim over the jaw-dropping theological truths found hidden beneath the surface of those 19th-century lyrics?
In 1816, an Austrian Priest by the name of Joseph Mohr wrote the words of “Silent Night” in German, his native tongue. The song was initially written as a carol to be sung by village children for their parents at the midnight Christmas Eve service. So much for a Silent Night! It’s also interesting to note that the original performance was not on the organ, the church instrument of choice for the day, but the guitar. Eventually, in the late 19th-century, the song was introduced in America where it was later translated into the English version many of us sing and enjoy today.
The profound mystery of the song lies within its description of the Messiah King’s coming. How could the divine glory of heaven choose to arrive on earth? Under what circumstances would the King of Kings come? To what audience would he announce His arrival? In what place would the Supreme Deity rest his newfound tapestry of human flesh? On what kind of night would He enter our time and space?
It was a silent night.
Indeed, it was not silent for the shepherds who received an angelic wakeup call, but for the busy world going about their all-important business, it was an earful of nothingness. No man-made trumpets announced this king’s arrival. The emperor of Rome’s attention was not allured by the normalcy of that night.
It was a holy night.
In the humblest of ways, the glory of God arrived and dwelt among us. While for most of the world it was a night like any other, in reality, it was the most sanctified and sacred night this world has ever known; it was a night that God had set apart to introduce salvation and hope to wayward mankind.
This Christmas, as we sing this wondrous hymn, let it resound with renewed wonder. Let us marvel and rejoice in this truth: Jesus came from the highest to bring hope to the lowest. May we, in the silence of our own hearts this night, see the radiant beams from His holy face anew, and may his redeeming grace dawn once again upon the horizon of each of our hearts.