by Stephen Miller
Almost 200 years ago, the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. The congregation at that Midnight service in St. Nicholas Church listened as the voices of the assistant pastor, Joseph Mohr, and the choir director, Franz Xaver Gruber, rang through the church to the accompaniment of Mohr’s guitar.
Weeks later, well-known organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived in Oberndorf to work on the organ in St. Nicholas church. Mauracher obtained copies of the music and words of “Silent Night” and took them back to his own Alpine village, Kapfing. There, two well-known families of singers — the Rainers and the Strassers — heard it. Captivated by “Silent Night,” both groups put the new song into their Christmas season repertoire.
The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. In 1834, they performed “Silent Night” for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, and he ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas Eve. Some twenty years after “Silent Night” was written, the Rainers brought the song to the United States, singing it (in German) at the Alexander Hamilton Monument located outside New York City’s Trinity Church.
In 1863, nearly fty years after being first sung in German, “Silent Night” was translated into English (by either Jane Campbell or John Young). It has now been translated into at least 44 languages and is sung internationally every Christmas. Little did Mohr and Gruber know the impact that new carol would make in so many people’s lives around the world. On Christmas Eve 1914, the carol made quite an impact when ghting on the battle elds of World War I stopped and a soldier’s voice made history.
“It was impromptu, no one planned it,” Stanley Weintraub, the author of Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, told Daybreak South’s Chris Walker. Weintraub said it started with German of cer, Walter Kirchhoff, a tenor with the Berlin Opera. “He came forward and sang Silent Night in German, and then in English. In the clear, cold night of Christmas Eve, his voice carried very far. The shooting had stopped and in that silence he sang and the British knew the song and sang back.”
That night for a brief moment, soldiers put aside their differences, and came together in “no man’s land” to celebrate Christmas. In that moment, “all is calm” became a reality on the battle field. The love that God showed to us in sending His Son was felt by those who laid down their weapons and accepted the love of their enemies.
May we take time this Christmas season to reflect on the words of this carol and the impact Christ has made in out lives.