I have shared before that I did NOT grow up in the Church. We were what you might call Godless heathens! We were bad people per se- we didn’t rob banks or kick puppies. But we didn’t “do” church to speak of and didn’t have much of a gear for those who did.
With that as a backdrop, I find it fascinating that one of the most…spiritual…events I remember as a kid was a direct result of my dad. It would have been somewhere around 1966. It was Christmas Eve and my dad asked us if we wanted to see the Christmas Star. Even though we weren’t church folks, we knew the whole “star in the east on Christmas morn” story, so we said, “Yes!”
He got us up sometime in the night. It seemed like 2AM, but I was pretty little and could be confused about that part. He brought us into the kitchen and pointed out the kitchen window. And there, in the EAST, was the brightest star I had ever seen. My dad said it was the Christmas Star. And I was amazed! I remember standing there, watching that star and realizing that this was a very singular event. I wasn’t sure what that even meant at the time, but I knew there was some significance to the event.
Since then, I have tried, more than once, to Google the date and circumstances, to see if I could find out anything about this celestial event. Perhaps it was planets aligning. Perhaps it was a comet. Perhaps it was…whatever. But even though I have slid a few years each way from that center of 1966, I have never found ANY mention of any special event in the sky that night. I simply have NO idea what I saw. I just know…THAT I saw it. And it had a profound impact on me.
Of course, if that WAS 1966, then I was 5 years old. And I was 36 years old when I entered the ministry. So it’s NOT like this event had an immediate impact on my life. But I have found that God works much that way in my life. It’s not so much about one event that stands out as a watershed event. Instead, it’s about a series of often seemingly disconnected events that, when put altogether, make a larger whole that impacts me in a greater way. (I think it’s because I’m a bit stubborn AND a bit…dense…and God has to work HARD on me sometimes to get me to see things!)
Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t remember standing in our kitchen as a boy, in my pajamas, watching that star out the window and knowing…KNOWING…that something big was happening! And therefore, not a Christmas goes by that I don’t think of my dad getting us out of bed and wondering- did he remember that event, too? My dad died almost 8 years ago, and I never thought to ask him about it. But I will NEVER forget it!
Our Christmas season sermon series is Silent Night, Holy Night. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beloved hymn that has become a bedrock of the Christmas season. We are spending the weeks leading up to Christmas looking at this hymn and how its words impact our holiday season.
Each week, we focus on one of the 4 verses of this classic hymn. We are singing that verse, acapela, and then hearing part of the Christmas Gospel read. We then talk a bit about the ongoing history of the hymn and how that day’s verse applies to the larger story of Christmas. Here is Verse 2. Would you join me as we sing it together.
Verse 2- “Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar. Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! Christ the Savior is born! Christ the Savior is born!”
Luke 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
So, last week we talked about Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber, two workers at a small Austrian church who combined their gifts to create this classic hymn. We talked about it being written specifically for guitar because either the mice had chewed through the chords of the church organ or rust had frozen some of the inner workings of that organ. Well, here’s more of that story.
Weeks later, well-known organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived in Oberndorf to fix the organ in St. Nicholas church. When Mauracher finished, he stepped back to let Gruber test the instrument. When Gruber sat down, his fingers began playing the simple melody he had written for Mohr’s Christmas poem. Deeply impressed, Mauracher took copies of the music and words of “Silent Night” 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 then ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas eve.
So, let’s take a look at this week’s Scripture. There were shepherds, living in the fields and watching over their flocks by night. And, as the classic British comedy duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore once said, that’s when you have to watch them because that’s when they get up to all their rubbish! Suddenly, and angel of the Lord appears before them and they are terrified. But the angel says, “Don’t be afraid.” EVERY time a heavenly being appears before one of us flawed humans, they always say, “Don’t be afraid.” Why? Because they recipient of the message is ALWAYS scared! Wouldn’t you be?
So, the angel tells them to not be scared. Why? Because the angel has brought Good News of GREAT joy for WHOM? ALL people. Not just the shepherds. Not just the Hebrews. Not just the Ancient Near Eastern people. ALL people. Throughout the world. Throughout time. Us. This very day, a Savior has been born Who is THE long-awaited Messiah. And in case you need more than that, here’s how you will know- go look for yourself. You’ll find Him in the town of David- Bethlehem- wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Why the shepherds? It seems as if there would have been any number of other groups who would have been a better, more reliable source. First off, they were available. They were on duty- standing guard, if you will. While the rest of the weary world slept, these dedicated men were manning their post. They were also precursors to Jesus Himself- shepherds. What is one of the most common terms for Jesus we still use today? The Great Shepherd. They had their flocks. WE are Jesus’ flock. On that first Christmas night, shepherds quaked at the sight of glories streaming from Heaven afar as the heavenly host sang Hallelujah to announce that Christ the Savior was born. The shepherds then went out to see. And once they saw…the Word then went out.
You may not stand in your kitchen this Christmas and see a blinding star in the early morning sky. But will you quake at the sight of glories streaming from Heaven afar as the King of kings, the Lord of lords comes NEAR? On that first Christmas, God deigned to break into time and space in a real and powerful, yet tender way. He CHOSE to step from His realm into ours and become one of us. He could have done this any number of ways. But He CHOSE to come as a helpless baby so that He could experience what we experience, live like we live…and die for us. And it all began on one silent night, one holy night. He came down and the Word went out on a silent night, a holy night.