Countdown to Christmas: Day 8. "Silent Night! Holy Night!"
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,
“Silent Night” always brings me back to one of two places in Western Springs, Illinois. The first is the living room floor in my childhood home. This is where my siblings and I would open gifts on Christmas morning. Over the course of the celebration, someone would put the John Denver and the Muppets album “A Christmas Together” on the turntable. After the first verse of “Silent Night,” John Denver tells the song’s backstory. In 1818, Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics and gave them to Franz Gruber, who wrote the transcendent melody. The church organ was broken, so the first performance was simply two vocalists and an acoustic guitar. It’s always been beautiful in its simplicity.
The second place was the sanctuary of The Village Church. The script for Christmas Eve was consistent. We’d open with Christmas carols; Cindy Winkler would sing “O Holy Night” and Rev. Dr. Art Brown would give a Christmas brief homily. Then we’d dim the lights and sing “Silent Night” by candlelight. We usually sat in the balcony, which provides the best view of the light passing from person to person. As the light traveled from the front of the room to the back, row by row and pew by pew, the warm glow grew brighter and brighter.
Reflecting on it now reminds me of this verse:
John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Yes, the silent night carries love’s pure light into a dark and dreary world. And that love, that burning, illuminating love, chases fear back into the shadows.
This radiant love is all-consuming. It’s not the cheap fluorescence of transactional affection. It’s the fire of self-sacrificing, others-elevating, unconditional passion. The light that bursts forth in Christ’s countenance is the dawn of redeeming grace.
On a visit to the Middle East, I visited the ruins of a Byzantine era church. Our guide explained to us that these churches were usually constructed with the altar facing east. The objective was for the congregants to greet the dawn as they worshipped. Advent is a chance for us to declare our belief that Jesus, Lord at his birth, brings the dawn of hope, at both his birth and his resurrection. And no matter how dark the night appears, the light of Love breaks through still.