Excerpts from Pastor Peter’s Christmas Eve message…

Is there a holiday that holds more nostalgic power than Christmas? Part of the joys that I experience each year is the reminiscing of Christmases past. Perhaps this is true for you too?

Allow me the chance to get nostalgic for a moment. I was lucky enough to live in Germany as a young child. I suppose because we were so far from home and family back here in the US, that my folks decided to make our own holiday fun. For Christmas each year, we would go skiing with other ex-patriot friends living in Europe. We tried out a few different destination ski-towns but ultimately fell in love with and returned many times to the tiny Austrian village of Sheffau, in the Tyrollean Alps just south of Germany, between Innsbruck and Salzburg.

All my memories of these Christmas trips maintain a storybook-like quality. Lots of snow to ski on, rustic chalets decorated with real-pine garland, actual sleigh-rides behind giant draft horses, and of course midnight mass on Christmas Eve, packed into the village church, holding candles and singing, in German of course.

There is another Austrian village that sits just outside Salzburg, also in the Tyrollean mountain setting of my storybook Christmas memory. The church in Oberndorf is named after St. Nicholas, as if to cement its place in Christmas Eve history. On Christmas Eve in 1818, exactly 200 years ago on this night, the church organist, Franz Gruber, was confronted with an organ that wouldn’t play. The young parish priest, Joseph Mohr, gave the organist a Christmas poem he had written. Gruber composed a tune on his guitar and the congregation sang together that night. Their voices joined in a song of angels and shepherds and a baby on a still and holy night.

This Christmas lullaby was ultimately translated years later into English by an Episcopal priest named John Freeman Young, far from the Tyrollean mountains, in New York City. Mohr and Gruber’s Austrian carol has been translated into 140 different languages and Bing Crosby’s rendition is the 3rd most purchased recorded single of all time.

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht!… Silent Night, Holy Night!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born!

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.

Text: J. Mohr; tr. J.F. Young; Music: F. Gruber; ELW #281

This beautiful lullaby has been sung on Christmas Eve for 200 years and has become one of the most beloved ways of telling this amazing story. The story of God’s promise fulfilled, love’s pure light has come into our darkened world. The glory streams from everywhere and we add our own alleluia.

So let’s tell this story and let’s raise our voices on this holiest of nights and all the dark nights to come.  Let’s sing this song of promises fulfilled, of love come down and a God whose glory sends us back out to be the light that remains for the sake of the world.  Amen.

Pastor Peter Christ

Merry Christmas and blessings to you in the new year!