Today marks its 200th birthday. It was born on Christmas Eve, 1818 in Oberndorf, Austria to “parents” Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber. The story is told that on the 23rd of December, a traveling group of actors was presenting a Christmas drama taken from the first chapters of Matthew and Luke. However, due to the local church’s organ being under repair, the presentation occurred in a private home.
Assistant Pastor of St. Nicholas church, Josef Mohr was in attendance that night. Being in a thoughtful mood afterwards, Mohr decided to take a longer path home that led him to a hill overlooking Oberndorf. From there, Mohr looked down over the snow-covered village and recalled a poem he had written about the night when angels first announced the birth of the long-awaited Savior to shepherds on a similar hillside.
Mohr believed those words would make a good carol for his congregation to sing the following night at their Christmas Eve service. However, he didn’t have any music to accompany the lyrics, and the church organ was not available. Despite the obstacles, Mohr persisted, asking the church organist, Franz Gruber, for assistance. With only a few hours in which to work, Gruber wrote a simple melody to be sung with his guitar. And on that Christmas Eve, 1818, the little congregation of St. Nicholas church in Oberndorf, Austria was the first to sing, “Silent Night.”
The song seemed to move everyone who heard it and word quickly spread. A few years later, the song was sung for King Frederick William IV of Prussia who ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas Eve thereafter. In 1836 the song was first sung in America outside Trinity Church in New York City, and in 1863 it was translated into English. Today, it is sung around the world in over 300 languages.
But it began on a quiet hillside outside a tiny village in Austria. The work of two humble men who overcame the obstacles of limited time and broken instruments to remind us of the dawn of God’s redeeming grace – Jesus Lord at thy birth. –Dave
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
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