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Silent Night – a miracle in the making

By Warwick Marsh - posted Friday, 24 December 2010

The Christmas carol 'Silent Night' was written in 1816 by Joseph Mohr, an Austrian guitar-playing Catholic priest, and hurriedly set to music by Franz Gruber on Christmas Eve for a Christmas service the next day. The miracle though is in the subject matter of the song and where that carol has gone since 1816.

Silent Night has been recorded by over 300 artists, including the “Marshes” on 'Christmas from the Australian Heart'. You see I was musician in a past life. That’s another reason I particularly love the story behind this amazing song.

Silent Night will be sung by over a billion people this Christmas. It will also probably be heard by over three billion people before Christmas Day is finished around the world. Everyone, from Bing Crosby to Boyz 11 Men, from Andrea Bocelli to Damien Leith, has recorded this famous carol. Even Simon Garfunkel's iconic version is well worth the watch.


So why has a song that was first sung in an obscure part of Austria gone around the world so many times and why is it still so incredibly popular today?

The real mystery of the miracle lies in the story behind the carol: “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”.

It was anything but peaceful the night Jesus was born. Mary and Joseph could not find any room in enemy occupied (Roman army) Bethlehem so Jesus Christ was born in a noisy, smelly stable. The incongruity did not end there. This baby was supposedly illegitimate. Joseph had put his good name on the line, all on the words of an angel who said, "Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit".

This sort of situation would stretch any good man's faith for more reasons than one.

While Mary deserves all the credit she gets, her husband does too. The fact that God would become a helpless baby boggles the mind, and for God to be born as a pauper in a stinky stable is completely counter-intuitive . . . or is it?

The angels hung out over the hills of Bethlehem and sang to the shepherds who were regarded with disdain by almost everyone.  Shepherds were akin to garbage collectors or sewerage workers, the true underclass of the day. It is humorous that God should find so much time for the underdog. The words of the angels in Luke 2:14 have been made into another well known carol, 'Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born king. Peace on earth, goodwill to men', written by Charles Wesley in 1739.


But back to the story - how has this noisy, smelly night, replete with caroling angels grabbed the world's attention and stilled our souls so much?

To get further insight into the power of the miracle we must go to the western front for the first Christmas in the trenches in World War I. The story is told well at:  

Imagine this:

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About the Author

Warwick Marsh is the founder of the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation with his wife Alison. They have five children and two grandchildren and have been married for 34 years.

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