The War-Stopping Song by Erny McDonough

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Posted by Joyce Rhyne on 19 Dec 13 - 0 Comments

“When World War I erupted in 1914, launching the first great European war of the 20th century, soldiers on both sides were assured that they would be home by Christmas to celebrate victory,” according to author Victor Parachin. Men did not get to see their families on Christmas, for the “war to end all wars” lasted four years, and 8.5 million men were killed, with hundreds of thousands more dying from injuries.

On Christmas Eve, that December 1914, the weather was cold, freezing the blood mingled, muddy water and slush of the trenches in which the men were bunkered. On the German side, soldiers began lighting candles, which clearly illuminated German troops, making them vulnerable, but the British held their fire. In fact, German soldiers who celebrated Christmas on the Eve, held trees over their heads extending holiday greetings to their enemies. British soldiers began hearing “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” and the English began singing along.

The singing of “Silent Night” quickly neutralized all hostilities on both sides. One by one, British and German soldiers began laying down their weapons and gathering into “no-man’s land”. That night, former enemy soldiers sat around a common campfire. They exchanged small gifts – chocolate bars, buttons, badges, and small tins of processed beef from their rations. A British soldier wrote, “I was out talking and shaking hands with the very men I had been trying to kill a few hours before!” Mortal enemies had agreed upon a great truth: “Christmas is about peace on earth, good will to men.” On some parts of the front lines, the truce lasted only Christmas Day, but on others, as late as New Years. A German participant wrote, “It was a day of peace in war. It is only a pity that it was not decisive peace.”

In the midst of the horror of World War I, a song proclaimed the coming of Jesus and briefly stopped the brutality.

“Silent Night” might have never had its place in history had it not been for a last-minute crisis at a church in Oberndorf, Austria. In 1818, at St. Nicholas Church, Pastor Joseph Mohr had discovered that the organ was badly damaged and could not be repaired before Christmas. Mohr, who occasionally led signing while strumming his guitar, realized traditional Christmas carols would not sound right on his stringed instrument. Thinking about Jesus’ modest birth more than 1,800 years earlier, Mohr began writing “Silent Night, Holy Night”. Using simple phrases, the young pastor felt inspired as he retold the story of Christ’s birth in six short stanzas.

At midnight, parishioners filled the church expecting to hear the organ’s resounding notes. Instead, Mohr strummed the guitar and directed the choir to sing this new song which caused the congregation to experience a unique and memorable Christmas Eve service.

The story of “Silent Night” almost ended that evening as Mohr put the music away with no thought of using it again. Mohr was transferred to another parish and, for several years, “Silent Night” was never sung. However, in 1825, master organ builder Carl Mauracher, while reconstructing that same church organ, discovered the music left behind by Mohr.

Mauracher was impressed and began introducing the carol to musicians and audiences. Soon folk singers that traveled all over Europe began adding “Silent Night” to their repertoires. Although the carol was causing an enormous stir across Europe, Mohr remained unaware of the accolades his music was creating. Penniless, Mohr died of pneumonia in 1848 at the age of 55. He never learned his song was spreading around the world. In 1863, John Freeman Young translated three stanzas of the carol into the English verses people still sing today.

Today, “Silent Night” is sung on every continent in scores of languages.

“Silent Night” is about the peace that Christ’s coming brought. The peace that enemy combatants tasted briefly in the midst of bloody conflict nearly a century ago was only a glimpse of what Jesus offers to people living today. The peace that came to the world because of the coming of Christ is genuine and lasting. This peace can cleanse hearts and banish all sin. It can mend broken relationships and turn enemies into friends.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Why not choose to do as the soldiers of World War I did? Why not choose to lay aside all feelings of enmity and allow that peace to reign at your Christmas celebrations, and beyond? Why not allow 2014 to be the year of “PEACE” in your life and allow it to replace the difficulties of 2013? Allow Jesus to be your Lord and peace will be yours!

Merry Christmas and a “peace-filled” New Years!

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,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glory streams from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sings Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, Holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

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