Josef Mohr, a young Austrian priest, composed these words in the early 1800s, and Franz Gruber set them to music is 1818, creating this beloved carol.
Josef Mohr had never written a hymn before and would possible never again, so to what serenity did he refer when he wrote, “All is calm, All is bright”? Surely not of his own experience, for he wrote of a quietness surrounding “yon virgin mother and Child.” It was indeed a “holy night,” but had Father Mohr forgotten that it was a bustling city to which Mary and Joseph had traveled? No silence was to be found in the city of David that night. In fact, the throng was such that the inns were filled to capacity.
And what about that stable, turned birthing chamber, where Joseph and Mary found refuge? Apparently, Father Mohr had never been in a delivery room. Surely that place was anything but tranquil as Mary brought forth her first-born, wailing in protest at the shock of being thrust into a new and noisy world. No silence here.
Perhaps the silent night could be found away from the din of the city. If one ventured into the fields outside the city walls, he might hear the bleating of sheep as the openness of the country carried their whimpering afar. The occasional tinkling of a bell identified the lead sheep as he moved among the flock. The shepherds were awake and no doubt chatting softly to ward off drowsiness. The night was long and tiring, yet sleepless, for good shepherds keep diligent watch, lest peril overtaken even one of the flock.
Their tranquility was broken and their hearts were gripped with fear as a great light suddenly illuminated the countryside. Even the bleating, the pounding hooves, and the jangling bells of the startled sheep did not cause the angelic pronouncement to be misunderstood. “There is nothing to fear.” The message dispelled their fright, for it was clear and direct: “Unto you … born…a Savior….”
Just as abruptly, a multitude of angels filled the natural amphitheater, caroling an anthem of praise to their King: “Glory to God in the highest…and on earth, peace….”
Why do you suppose the Heavenly Father sent this angelic birth announcement to shepherds? In many respects, shepherding is a noble occupation. But there is a downside to shepherding. Shepherds had a hard time maintaining religious purity as the Pharisees defined it. They couldn’t keep the Sabbath because sheep need constant protection. Shepherds spent most of their time in the fields away from society and had no influence to speak of. In modern terms they were blue-collar workers largely unnoticed by those in power. Shepherds were in the lower classes of society.
Some commentators believe that because of their proximity to Bethlehem these shepherds likely were tending the lambs used as temple sacrifices in nearby Jerusalem. If that is the case, consider the irony of their visitation. These men of the field hastily leave the sacrificial sheep in pursuit of the spotless Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of world. What ecstasy must have burned in their hearts as they “noised these things abroad.” No silence here.
Yet, possibly to the strumming of a guitar on Christmas Eve in 1818, Josef Mohr sang his inspiration: “Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, All is bright.” Lyrics so simple, yet so profound.
I have never heard Father Mohr’s lyrics questioned. For some inexplicable reason, we, who have sought and found the Savior, understand his composition. All is calm. All is bright. The calmness and brilliance lives within us.
(Light second purple candle.)