Every Christmas season, there is one question that gets asked over and over-“What is your favorite memory during the holidays?” Although I have almost sixty years to look back on, there is one among many that stands out.
In early December 1991, I was asked to plan the Christmas Eve service at a Presbyterian church in Hixson, Tennessee. I had only been on the job two months at the church as their youth director.
I was scared to death. How am I going to fill up an entire hour? What if nobody comes? What if we don’t have enough candles for everyone to hold during the candlelight part of the service?
I worked hard checking off every detail on my things to do list. I found what I thought was the perfect story to read to the children when they came to the front of the sanctuary. I met with the choir director to choose an anthem that went along with the theme of the evening. I met with volunteers who wanted to help with the drama part, and I picked out the bulletin for the secretary to photocopy.
Christmas Eve arrived. Five minutes before the service, I slowly cracked the door open to the sanctuary and peered out. All the seats were taken. I felt a twang of loneliness as I noticed families sitting together. I was alone on Christmas Eve. I pushed aside my feelings, asked God to use me, walked on the stage, and welcomed everyone. God blessed that service.
At the conclusion, I got teary-eyed singing the first verse of “Silent Night” as I held onto a white candle. The congregation joined in for the remaining verses. After shaking hands with folks as they left the church, I got in my car and made the eight-hour drive to North Carolina.
I turned on some Christmas music to counter the silence. As I drove on a beautiful star-lit night, I asked God if I’d be lonely forever and never marry. I gave Him my brokenness. Joy came when I pulled in the driveway of my parents’ house at three a.m. Christmas morning.
We all have memories. The best ones include a mixture of sadness and hope, agreed upon by the late author, Frederick Buechner. “Who of us, looking back at our lives, cannot remember moments of such unbearable sadness? In my case, I have found that often such moments occur in conjunction with moments of nearly unbearable joy.” (Secrets in the Dark)
Listen to Robert J. Morgan tell the origin of a classic Christmas hymn, born out of an unfortunate situation.
“It was Christmas Eve in the Austrian Alps. At the newly constructed Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, a Tyrol village near Salzburg, Father Joseph Mohr prepared for the midnight service. He was distraught because the church organ was broken; ruining prospects for that evening’s carefully planned music. But Father Joseph was about to learn that our problems are God’s opportunities, that the Lord causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him.
It came into Father Joseph’s mind to write a new song, one that could be sung organless. Hastily, he wrote the words, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…” Taking the text to his organist, Frank Gruber, he explained the situation and asked Franz to compose a simple tune.
That night, December 24, 1818, “Silent Night” was sung for the first time as a duet accompanied by a guitar at the aptly named Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf. Were it not for a broken organ, there would never have been a “Silent Night.” (Then Sings my Soul)
Another late, great saint, Charles Spurgeon, said it best. “Christ is not glorified because He was born in a manger, but because He is born in a broken heart.”
-pictures courtesy of pexels.com
-click below to watch a creative picture-story video of Silent Night, from For King and Country.