Sharing the Gift of Christmas through Worship
Experiencing the heart of Christmas this holiday season—and every day of the year!
You would think that after enjoying 71 Christmas seasons and preparing for my 72nd, my enthusiasm for the holiday would wear off, but it hasn’t. I still look forward to Christmas for many reasons.
For one thing, I immediately think of our family; our three daughters, their husbands, and a total of eight grandchildren. If you aren’t a parent or a grandparent, imagine what it would be like to see the children’s excitement, their anticipation, and the connection we all enjoy with one another at get-togethers; whether eating, playing games, or of course, watching them open their presents. I truly believe that the sense of belonging and connection we have with our family at Christmas is a foretaste of what fellowship in heaven will be like when the larger family of God gathers as one to worship and serve our Savior.
For me, Christmas is also a time of sharing. I hope your family reaches out to others at Christmas, even as ours tries to do each year. Of course we’re involved in people’s lives during the year, but Christmas is a time when we go “above and beyond” in reaching out to those in need either with financial gifts or hospitality. Christmas is the time when even those who do not count themselves as religious catch what we call “the Christmas spirit”—an atmosphere of generosity, caring, and friendship.
But of course—and now we get to the heart of Christmas—it’s a time to reflect on the birth of Christ, reminding ourselves that He was indeed a child even as we once were. This is important for us as evangelicals because we are so insistent on the deity of Christ (and we should be!) that we have a tendency to neglect His humanity. The image of Jesus cradled in his mother’s arms, then laid in a manger, reminds us of our childhood and helps us understand how far Jesus actually stooped to save us. Leaving the glories of heaven to participate in the simple life of a peasant family captures our imagination, and magnifies our sense of wonder. No wonder Paul wrote, “Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh.” The Christmas season invites us to ponder, to remember, and to worship as does no other time of year.
This leads me to a final reason why I look forward to Christmas. No matter how often we have sung familiar Christmas carols, I look forward to singing them, or hearing them sung once again. Who can ever become weary of “Silent Night, Holy Night” or “Joy to the World, the Lord is come!” These carols touch us very deeply because they take the doctrines of Christmas and connect those truths with our emotions.
As our tour bus entered the not-so-little town of Bethlehem this past March, the words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” came repeatedly to mind. In the last stanza Phillips Brooks captured the heart of Christmas when he wrote, “O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord, Emmanuel.”
Yes, the Lord has come to redeem us and to abide with us forever. With a message like that I will continue to look forward to Christmas until faith will give way to sight, and time as we know it shall be no more!
I, for one, welcome Christmas and I hope you do too!
Silent Night, Holy Night
Several years ago Pastor Lutzer preached a series of messages on the Carols of Christmas. So, we have asked him to tell us the story of how Silent Night came to be written and how it became the world’s most beloved Christmas carol. Here is his reply:
On Christmas Eve, 1818, in the village of Oberndorf near Salzburg, Joseph Mohr, a 22-year-old clergyman faced the task of telling the congregation in Saint Nicholas church that the organ was broken; and although it could not be repaired by Christmas, he was optimistic that there would nevertheless be music on Christmas day. The rumor was that the mice had eaten through the bellows, and a repairman was not able to fix them immediately.
Franz Gruber, the organist, was despondent over the broken organ, but was encouraged by Joseph Mohr’s hope that there would be music in the church on Christmas day. Both Mohr and Gruber loved music and lightheartedness, so much so that Mohr, an assistant priest at the church, was believed by some to not take his duties as seriously as he should.
On Christmas Eve, Mohr made a pastoral visit to the home of a young woodcutter who celebrated the birth of a newborn baby. That evening on his way home, he began to contemplate the birth of Christ. He walked to the top of a hill, and looked at the town against the background of a starlit evening. Words came to him that he rushed home to record:
The next morning he hurried over to Gruber’s home and gave him the words as a Christmas gift. “God be praised!” said Gruber. “We have often expressed sorrow that the perfect Christmas hymn had not been written and now we have it!”
“Write the music for it!” Mohr told him. Gruber thought that this was impossible with the organ broken, but he was reminded he could use his guitar.
That evening, at their Christmas service, they sang the song as a duet. It was an instant success and when the organ repairman, Karl Mauracher, came in the spring of that year (1819), he asked Gruber to play a song. Of course he chose “Silent Night.”
The repairman was captivated by the song and took a copy with him which helped to spread the song throughout the churches and villages. Later it was used by the Strasser family, a children’s quartet that sang at the Leipzig fair. Twenty-two years after it had been written, it was performed by a choir for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who ordered it be given first place in all future Christmas concerts within the bounds of his domain.
As for Joseph Mohr, he died of tuberculosis at the age of 46, never knowing that he had given the world its favorite Christmas carol. It was translated into English in 1863 and was used in an English hymnal in 1871. Today it has been translated and sung in 120 different languages.
Why are we so captivated by “Silent Night, Holy Night?” We are intrigued by the fact that Augustus, a Roman Emperor 1,500 miles away, started the train of events that finally led to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. When he decreed that all people within his empire had to return to their ancestral home for a census, an obscure Galilean couple left Nazareth for Bethlehem. And there Mary gave birth to the Christ child who was Israel’s Messiah.
“Silent Night, Holy Night” captures the wonder of that evening in Bethlehem. The song helps us contemplate the mystery, the simplicity, and the humanity of our Savior. We shall sing it again this Christmas!