'Silent Night' prepares us to celebrate the Christmas season Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, a column by Fr. Donald Lange

There are slightly different versions of the origin of the Christmas carol “Silent Night.”

My favorite version reveals that shortly before Christmas in 1818, Fr. Joseph Mohr discovered that the organ of St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria, was broken. He knew that his parishioners would be disappointed without Christmas music.

Image of mother and baby

Earlier Father Mohr had traveled up the mountain to bring Communion to a woman who had just given birth. As he walked home past the beautiful snow covered slopes, the image of the mother and her baby surfaced. They reminded him of Mary and the Christ child.

Inspired, he began to compose the lyrics of “Silent Night.” Then he took the lyrics to the organist, Franz Gruber, who wrote the music for “Silent Night.” It was first sung on Christmas to the accompaniment of a guitar.

The greatest gift

The Christmas season is a time of gift-giving. For Christians, the greatest Christmas present is God the Father’s gift of Jesus. In John 3:16 it says, “For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might eternal life.”

Jesus became like us so we could become like him. He showed us how to live a Christ-like life. He died on the cross to redeem us from our sins and earn for us the gift of Heaven.

He passionately desires to dwell in the crib of our hearts. After his Ascension he sent the Holy Spirit to enable us to call Jesus “Lord” and to love as he loved more fully. Christians believe that Jesus’s birth is the center of human history

A poet wrote that out of love for us, the mighty God whose hands created the sun, moon, stars, and planets and hurled them into space became a tiny helpless baby. His hands were so small that they could not reach up to touch the noses of the oxen which warmed him with their hayed breath.

The dignity of children

In his 2006 Christmas homily, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. . . . towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of love, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life.”

Around Christmas sometimes we hear of homeless and lonely persons who feel they are abandoned by God, family, friends, or others. The Christmas joy of others only reminds them of a loved one who died or friends who are no longer with them.

The empty chair and empty place at the dinner table make their home and heart feel empty. Unemployment and tough economic times magnify the cross of sadness for some.

Sharing God’s love

During Advent and the Christmas season, generous persons sometimes visit shut-ins and nursing home residents. Others bring food baskets to families and toys and clothes to poor children.

When I served as a younger priest in the Janesville-Beloit area, on Christmas Eve, Rock County Jail chaplaincy members visited inmates, shared treats and God’s Word of love with inmates and their families. They appreciated it.

This year, millions of Americans and others were deeply touched by the New York policeman who gave a new pair of winter shoes to an elderly homeless man who was shivering in the cold. The man told him it was the first pair of shoes he ever had.

The policeman’s generous act was a beautiful representation of the presence of Christ in the world. It was a glorious way to begin the Advent Season and prepare for Christmas. It reminded us that out of love for us, God the Father gave us Jesus, the greatest of all gifts. Jesus taught us and invited us to walk in his shoes of love.

The Christmas season begins on Christmas and ends with Jesus’ Baptism. During this time, as a family we celebrate the gift of Jesus’ birth. We thank God for our family and give each member the present of quality presence.

May we celebrate the Christmas season with the reverence, awe and faith expressed in the song “Silent Night.” In this Year of Faith may we share God’s gift of love during the Christmas season and every day.


Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.