The Dawn of Redeeming Grace

Perhaps the world’s most popular Christmas carol is Silent Night!  It will be sung by millions of people tomorrow night during Christmas Eve worship services.

Silent Night, originally Stille Nacht, was a collaboration of an Austrian priest named Joseph Mohr, and the music director of his parish, Franz X. Gruber.  In late 1818, Mohr’s parish in Oberndorf, Austria had an organ that was in need of repair due to a flood earlier that year.  In anticipation of the need for music at the Christmas Eve mass, Mohr asked Gruber to create a melody that could be played on a guitar, and be used with lyrics Mohr had already written.  Those lyrics were the words to a six verse poem Mohr had penned a couple of years earlier.  Supposedly Gruber composed the melody in a matter of hours.

Here is a direct translation of Stille Nacht into English.  The result is considerably different from the more familiar English lyrics that we know and use today.

Stille Nacht (Source: Lisa Yunnucci )
Silent night, holy night,
All’s asleep, alone awake
Only that faithful, holy couple.
The nice boy with curly hair,
Sleeps in heavenly peace,
Sleeps in heavenly peace!

Silent night, holy night,
O Son of God, lovingly laughs,
From your divine mouth!
Now, the hour of salvation rings for us,
Jesus, in thy birth,
Jesus, in thy birth!

Silent night, holy night,
That brought the world salvation,
From the golden heights of Heaven,
Let us see the abundance of grace,
Jesus in human form,
Jesus in human form.

Silent night, holy night,
When all power today,
Of Fatherly love has overflowed,
And Jesus, as brother, humbly embraced,
The people of the world,
The people of the world.

Silent night, holy night,
Long since intended for us,
When the Lord, freed of wrath,
In the father’s “old grey” time,
Promised all the world protection,
Promised all the world protection

Silent night, holy night,
To the shepherds first announced,
By the angels’ Alleluia,
Is sounding aloud from far and near:
“Jesus the Savior is here.”
“Jesus the Savior is here.”

The lyrics to Silent Night most familiar to English speaking people, are credited to John F. Young, an Episcopal Bishop from Florida.  He wrote them in 1863.  Young is known to be the author of the first three verses shown below, while the author of the fourth is not known.

Silent Night!
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,
Glories stream from Heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
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.

Silent night, holy night
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent Night is my favorite Christmas carol.  I have great memories of it as a child.  And the memories of Christmas Eves past and the singing of this song are also significant.  But apart from those personal sentiments, this year I have been drawn to a particular line in the song that has served to create a rich restatement and reinforcement of the meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is quite literally and appropriately, the celebration of the incarnation of God in Christ, Immanuel, and a celebration of the long anticipated, but mostly misunderstood arrival of Messiah.  But in Young’s lyric “the dawn of redeeming grace“, he captures something else that is incredibly important to understand and appropriate.

The concepts of creation, fall, redemption and consummation are certainly not new.  But they have received some helpful coverage in a couple of books that I read this fall.  Out of that reading, I am, no doubt, reflecting on Young’s lyrics with fresh eyes.  And with those fresh eyes, the significance of “the dawn of redeeming grace” has not been lost on me this Christmas.  Because the essence of Christmas really is the literal arrival of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, that brings redemption to fallen man.  And with the dawn of that first Christmas morning in Bethlehem, it had become a reality.


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