Silent Night! Holy Night

December 24, 2018 is the 200th anniversary of the song Silent Night. It was first performed at mass on this day in 1818. Here is some of the backstory to Silent Night. From The United Methodist Church Discipleship site:

The story of “Stille Nacht” is one of the most endearing and enduring in Christian hymnody, though highly romanticized. Joseph Mohr (1792-1848) was an Austrian cathedral chorister in Salzburg as a boy. He was ordained into the Catholic priesthood in 1815. He spent most of his life ministering in parishes near Salzburg. Living a simple life, he died in poverty after giving away what little he had to the poor.

In 1816, Mohr penned the original six stanzas of the poem that would make him famous around the world. He was serving as an assistant priest in Oberndorf, now a skiing area in the Austrian Alps. Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863) was an Austrian cantor and school teacher, holding church positions near Salzburg including Oberndorf. While a prolific composer, little was published and none known now save this Weihnachtslied (Christmas carol). Tradition has it that the carol was composed for a text by his assistant priest Joseph Mohr on short notice for the Christmas Eve Mass in Oberndorf in 1818. While it was first accompanied on guitar, it may not have been because the organ didn’t work. As Carl Daw Jr. notes, “the organ at St. Nicholas Church was in chronic need of attention.” (Daw, 126) That this was due to mice eating the bellows cannot be verified and probably is closer to apocryphal romanticism than fact. We do know, however, that Joseph Mohr had a guitar it use seems to have been for aesthetic reasons rather than an organ emergency: the guitar was more appropriate for accompanying this folk-like melody than an organ. Though this was not the normal instrument for the Mass, it was used in this case to great effect.

Silent Night is in my top 5 favorite carols. The other 4 would be Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus; O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and Of the Father’s Love Begotten. 

We will be concluding our service tonight at McCrae Brook by singing this wonderful Christmas carol, complete with guitar accompaniment.

Prayer for Christmas Eve Morning

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Jesus Is Born

Christmas Eve (Morning) | December 24, 2018

Isaiah 9:2-7  •  Psalm 96  •  Titus 2:11-14  •  Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Luke 2:1-14 New Living Translation (NLT)

This morning we have the first half of the nativity story as Luke tells it. We learn that Mary and Joseph have taken the journey to Bethlehem, the city of Joseph’s ancestors. Mary and Joseph were poor, so more than likely they made the journey by foot. It is here in Bethlehem that Jesus is born. It was a humble birth and as my niece posted on Facebook yesterday, it was probably anything but a silent night – even thought that is one of my favorite carols. Jesus was a normal newborn. He cried when he was hungry – or needed his diaper change. Jesus was God in the flesh – more on that in tomorrow’s devotional based on John 1.

Jesus’ arrival here on earth was not announced to kings and other important people, but was announced to some shepherds who were tending to their sheep outside of Bethlehem. The angels announce the birth and they tell the shepherds to go see the baby. Just before the angels leave they give these wonderful words:

“Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Luke 2:14

This season we have been anticipating the arrival of hope, peace, joy, and love – and he has now arrived!

Sunday Night Thoughts

We are in the middle of our church Christmas services. However, this evening we are able to relax. Friday night we had our Blue Christmas Service. It was a wonderful service of hope and inspiration. We had around 15 attend. One of the things I did differently this year was that several of the songs came to us via video. I used Advent Hymn by Christy Nockels, You’re Here by Francesca Battistelli, and It Is Well by Bethel Music. In addition we sang with live accompaniment Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus; In the Bleak Midwinter; O Come, O Come Emmanuel; and Silent Night.

This morning we had a good service at McCrae Brook. Several of our regulars were out but because of the holidays, several guests were here. Tomorrow we have our Christmas Eve service. We are doing something called A Service of the Nativity. It is similar to our Lessons and Carols Service but slightly different. I am looking forward to this service of songs and scripture.

On Friday night we also had a Christmas party with the local clergy. It was tough because we had to fit it in with the other activities. At church today we exchanged Christmas cards and the church gave us a wonderful Christmas gift. After church we took a poinsettia to one of our shut-ins and took her cards to her as well.

We are looking forward to not driving and riding vans this week as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ – God with us. Have a great week and…

Merry Christmas!

Prayer for the Week

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mary Meets Elizabeth

Fourth Sunday of Advent | December 23, 2018

Micah 5:2-5a  •  Luke 1:46b-55  •  Hebrews 10:5-10  •  Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

46 Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.”

Today we look at the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary. I was thinking about the various visits of the angel before and after Jesus was born. The shepherds were visited by an angel in the fields right after Jesus was born. An angel warned the Wise Men to return by a different route. Zechariah and Joseph were visited by an angel as was Mary. Elizabeth is the only one who was not visited by an angel.

But she knew as we find out in this narrative today. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, the baby she was carrying leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. All of this leads to Elizabeth declaring good news about the baby that Mary is about to have. Elizabeth knows that Mary is pregnant with the Son of God. Can you imagine the feeling. I’m pretty sure that Mary was overwhelmed by it all. But because of the greeting by Elizabeth, Mary sings out a song. We know it as the Magnificat. Meaning my soul magnifies the Lord.

Below is the song that Mary sang:

Sunday Night Thoughts

As I write tonight, we are watching The Sound of Music. We happened upon it after watching the Steelers beat the Patriots.  As I wrote on a friends Facebook page, our Pennsylvania football teams sure know how to add drama to football.  I wish they would cut it out and just win football games.

It’s been a good week.  Yesterday we went Christmas caroling with several of the other churches in our community.  We had a great time as we walked through the borough of Eldred.  It was great to stop by various shut-ins from each of the churches.  

After Christmas caroling, we had an Open House Cookie Swap at the parsonage.  We had a great time with members of our church. There were lots of snacks and lots of cookies.  

This afternoon we helped set up some things for a Christmas event at the Elementary School.  We are looking forward to helping with the event tomorrow night.  

This morning we had a good service at McCrae Brook.  The was a wonderful spirit of worship as we sang, prayed and opened God’s Word.  

This coming week, we are preparing for two services – a Blue Christmas Service for those who are stressed, grieving, or lonely.  It is always a wonderful pause in all the Christmas festivities before Christmas.  It is a low-key service in which we light candles in memory of loved ones who have gone.  

That is about it for this week.  Seize the day!