The Story Behind Silent Night

I love singing Christmas songs.

Some have gotten old, some have become annoying yet I still find myself humming, “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas,” while doing the dishes, and some are enchanting like the hymn Silent Night.

The text below comes from the third stanza and has been sung to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ for centuries. 

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.

Thanks to a broken organ on the Christmas Eve of 1818, we can sing this melodic hymn today. 

A priest in the Australian Alps, Father Joseph Mohr, was preparing for his midnight service. But, he had a problem. The church’s organ was broken, which made the music he had planned for the congregation obsolete. 

But God has a knack for using broken things for his glory. And Father Joseph decided to write a song that could be sung without an organ. So, more than 200 years ago, this man scrawled down the lyrics for “Silent Night.” 

His organist was able to quickly come up with a melody to accompany the words and that night the song was sung for the first time by the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf. 

The hymn soon became famous and was even performed before the king and queen of Austria by the Strasser children. It was published in a German hymnal in 1838 and translated for an English book for Sunday school songs in 1863. Not to be cliché, but the rest is history. 

This Christmas season, when we hear this song on the radio or maybe even sing it on Christmas Eve with lit candles, let us remember three principles that can be taken from its origin story: 

#1 – God wastes nothing. 

I’m sure Father Joseph became a little anxious when his organ was broken on Christmas Eve. His congregation was coming, and they probably had expectations of how church that night was supposed to go.

Sometimes, do our own expectations block us from seeing or experiencing something else or maybe even better that God has in store?

God was able to use something broken to make something better – to inspire a song that would give Jesus glory for centuries. 

How many times do we look at the broken things in our lives and think, “God could never use that.”  Or, “I wish I had never gone through this.” 

God can use anything, even our pasts that might be riddled with addiction, divorce, abuse, loss, or anything else we might think should be shoved into a closet and forgotten, to reveal his transforming power and love to others. 

An unusable, broken organ brought about a beautiful song to be written, and he can do the same thing in your life. He transforms brokenness into beauty; you only have to give him room in your life to do so. 

#2 – God’s plans are better than our plans. 

Father Joseph had a plan, but God had a better one. 

Silent Night would never have been written if Father Joseph’s original song plan was sung that Christmas Eve. 

God’s plans go hand and hand with his purposes and his ways in order to live in his will – which is to bring glory to God. They are the why, the how and the what.

Often, many people want to know God’s plans for them right off the bat, but God doesn’t work that way. We must live in his purpose and in his ways first. 

God’s purpose is the why in our life. This why is our meaning in life and why Christians are supposed to pursue a life of holiness. 

This means we try to have an attitude of selflessness and to focus on seeking God and loving others over our own self interests. 

Once we know his purpose, we strive to know his ways and his attributes to fulfill that purpose.

Knowing God’s ways, or his truth, requires opening the Bible and intentionally spending time with him. The only way we can be close to God is if we are “abiding in his Word”. (John 8:31). 

We cannot be obedient in God’s ways unless we know how to be obedient to God. Before we can begin to know God’s plans, we must be able to see everything through the lens of Scripture because God will never call us to do something that goes against it. 

Finally, God’s plans are what he calls us to do.

God usually speaks to us in three ways: through his Word, through other people or through our circumstances.

And sometimes, he won’t tell us directly, he will just let events happen like an organ breaking. 

No matter what, his plans, purposes and ways are better than anything we could ever achieve without his direction in our lives

.#3 – God will always exceed our expectations. 

The congregation of the Church of St. Nicholas were probably expecting an organ to lead the singing that night. 

However, I don’t think they were disappointed by the guitar that led them through the new hymn, “Silent Night.” And if they were, they were probably missing out on the blessing God had in store for them. 

Romans 8:28 says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” 

Obviously, I don’t think that “good” means he is promising we will all be millionaires, we will never be sick, or we will never face hurts or hardships. 

But I think he works behind the scenes in our lives to bring good out of whatever our circumstances might be. 

God doesn’t break his promises – he is faithful until the end.

In love and truth,
Melody

(Morgan, R. J. (2003). Then Sings My Soul. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.)

Authored by Melody Turner exclusively for Lifeword.org (https://lifeword.org/culture/takeaways-from-christmas-hymns-part-one/)This article is republished with permission from Lifeword.org.  The text or images of this article cannot be republished, copied or reprinted in any form without written permission from Lifeword.org

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