December 24th, 1818, in the small Austrian town of Oberndorf, a hymn text was hastily penned by young priest Joseph Mohr, with a guitar accompaniment by schoolmaster and organist Franz Xaver Gruber, as they were dealing with a flood that had silenced the church organ, needing a hymn for that night’s Christmas Eve mass. The hymn they wrote under these unprecedented circumstances was “Stille Nacht” which we all know as “Silent Night.”
Two centuries later, with the exception of “Silent Night,” we prefer our Christmas hymns to be joyful (think “Joy to the World,” “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” and “Angels We Have Heard On High”). Christmas most years is filled with lots of baking, many presents, holiday gatherings, and celebrations that feel like the sugar high that you got after you eat all those Christmas cookies you made. But this year, our holidays are quieter, our gatherings (hopefully) small and safe, and on Christmas Eve, we won’t be in a sanctuary filled with many people singing carol after carol. We can still celebrate together over Facebook Live, but it truly will be a silent night for most of us. So maybe this is a year to turn to the quieter carols.
One of the calmer carols, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” has a third verse that I always remember at the end of Christmas Eve, having finished all services. Its words seem even more appropriate after a year full of hardship for some, struggles for many, and a hope needed by all of us:
And you, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow:
Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing
oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.
Church, we need to rest beside the weary road a little longer as we are waiting out this pandemic. We are in for some more silent nights, but the “glad and golden hours” will return soon. For now, let us listen and look for those angels. Let us look for the ones and be the ones who live out the “God’s work, our hands” motto, by serving with their hands and their words. Let us sing to the weary souls around us, be it with actual carols, or through service.
Until we meet again safely:
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord lift his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. Amen.