Saturday, December 13, 2008

Heavenly Peace

As a teacher, I love to research the story behind different subjects - you know, "the rest of the story", as Paul Harvey would say. (Unless, of course, it's the "story" behind one of my students' missing assignments! Grrr!) As a writer, I particularly love researching the inspiration behind written works, especially novels and songs.

Just this past week, my students and I researched the story behind "Silent Night" and I found some very interesting tid bits revolving around what is probably the most well known Christmas carol of all time.

First of all we found out that it's OLD! The lyrics were originally written in German 192 years ago by an Austrian priest, Father Josef Mohr. The melody came two years later by composer and primary school teacher, Franz Xaver Gruber, and was originally slightly different than the version we all know and love.

We learned that "Silent Night" was first performed with guitar accompaniment in the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria on Christmas Eve 1818. It is supposed that the church organ was no longer working, possibly due to flooding that ended up destroying the church, so Mohr and Gruber composed a song that would be every bit as moving on the guitar as on the organ. I think they succeeded, don't you? Since then "Silent Night" has been performed with the accompaniment of a wide variety of instruments and even a cappella. (By the way, the picture above is that of the Silent Night Memorial Chapel which was built where the Church of St. Nicholas once stood after it had been torn down. Isn't it beautiful?!)

This research led us to the story of the "Christmas truce". I'm sure many of you have already heard this story, but it touched my heart so deeply I want to recap for you. It was Christmas Eve 1914. The whole world was in upheaval as we were in the midst of World War I, but on that particular night, the German troops began decorating the area around their trenches by placing candles on trees. Imagine! Decorating in the middle of war! They continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, most notably "Stille Nacht", or as we know it, "Silent Night". The carols floated through the stagnant air, which I'm guessing reeked of gun powder and . . . well, death, and before long the British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the "No Man's Land" where small gifts were exchanged — whisky, jam, cigars, chocolate, and the like. The soldiers exchanged gifts, sometimes addresses, and drank together. There are even stories of football matches that took place between the opposing forces! The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. Against the orders from higher ups, the artillery in the region fell silent that night, and in the name of human kindness and decency, enemies came together to celebrate our Savior's birth! That gives a whole knew meaning to "heavenly peace".

PRAYER REQUESTS AND UPDATES: I have one new prayer request that came to me a few days ago. Please pray for new mama and daddy, Jennie and Garth, and especially their amazing miracle baby Nicholas. The detail that I have are as follows: Jennie's water broke at 23 weeks gestation, and Nicholas was born at 25 weeks. Sweet baby Nicholas remains in the NICU and is making strides every day. He had the benefit of in utero steroid shots to help with his lung development (isn't our medical field amazing!) and Jennie recently got to hold him for the first time. He is off the ventilator. And the hope is that he will be able to come home before his due date, Feb. 26. So things are looking up, but sweet Nicholas still has a long road ahead of him. Please, please pray mightily for Nicholas' continued growth and development. I believe that the Lord has big plans in store for this sweet baby. Pray for the doctors, nurses, and any specialists Nicholas might need. And please lift up Jennie and Garth during this time of complete and utter joy, yet gut wretching concern. I remember the emotional rollercoaster very well when my firstborn, Alison, came into this world. My heart just soared to hold her and look into her precious face, yet I was bracing myself for all of the challenges I knew she would have to face since she was born with a cleft palate. It can be draining. I pray that Jennie and Garth's spirits are heightened exponentially with every little milestone that is met in the days to come. I pray for strength and patience and the comfort that only our Lord can provide.

I have an update today also. My step dad, Tom Otto, is feeling much better. He had a minor procedure done this past Thursday and it went very well. I want to keep him on our list of prayer concerns for one more week as he recovers. And remember, if you or someone you know has a prayer concern (even if it is unspoken - God knows all of our needs after all) please email me personally through my profile and I will be more than happy to post it. There IS power in prayer!


Deanna said...

Hey Jen! The Austrian church you write about and show pictured here is VERY famous in Germany. My husband's parents are from Germany, and his oldest sister remains there. Each year, she sends us amazing German Christmas items (wooden ornaments, cleverly shaped wooden incense burners, candles). One year, they sent us a wooden version of the Silent Night Chapel. It came with a group of tiny wooden Christmas carolers to put around it. Very beautiful. And ironically, we decorated for Christmas just last night, and I marveled at every amazing detail of our little wooden building and its little singers, who undoubtedly are singing "Silent night. Holy night." Thanks for sharing this amazing little piece of history. What power there is in song! Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, thanks for sharing this interesting bit of history. The photo of the church is so peaceful, just as the song is. We hope 2009 is a blessed year for you.

Unknown said...

Hi Jen, I tagged you over on my blog. I hope you will participate. You can visit my blog for the guidelines. Merry Christmas to you and your family.