It is the most recorded song in history (according to Joel Whitburn’s Pop Memories 1890 – 1954 and other sources). The tradition holds that Joseph Mohr, parish priest at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria, wrote the words to “Silent Night” and had the church choir director, Franz Gruber, put them to music and then performed it for the very first time all on Christmas Eve 1818. The story continues that the song was written for and performed on guitar because the church organ was broken. It’s more likely that Mohr actually wrote the words in 1816.
The lyrics and lullaby quality of the melody paint a picture for us not only of that very first Christmas night but of the peace that the coming of the Christ child makes available to us all. Think about that night. Joseph and Mary and their new baby Jesus are far from home. They’re forced to stay in a stable. Their first night as a family is interrupted by a visit from a group of shepherds and the noise of an angelic host. Add to that the uncertainty they must have been experiencing, given the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ conception and birth and the coming journey to Egypt to escape those who would kill the child.
And yet, there was peace. A quiet confidence that God, who had placed the new family in the middle of this situation in the first place, would be faithful and see them through this and all that was to come. That’s the peace we can know thanks to that first silent night and the events it set in motion.