SERVING OUR VETERANS: A tribute to ‘Silent Night’
As I write this column, we find ourselves once again in the Christmas season. In fact, Christmas Day will arrive just three days after this column is published.
Did you know this year marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of the well-known Christmas song, “Silent Night?” In 1818, this carol was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. The congregation attending midnight mass in St. Nicholas Church listened as the voices of the assistant pastor, Father Joseph Mohr and the choir director, Franz Gruber, rang through the church to the accompaniment of Father Mohr’s guitar. On that Christmas Eve, a song was born that would wing its way into the hearts of people throughout the world. Although “Silent Night” was born in Austria, it has a special significance outside of its birth nation and has become “The Song Heard Round The World.” Perhaps this is part of the miracle of “Silent Night.” The words flowed from the imagination of a modest priest and the music was composed by a musician who was not known outside his home village. Just like the miracle of our Savior’s birth, there was no celebrity to sing it at its world premiere. Yet, its powerful message of heavenly peace has crossed all borders and language barriers, conquering the hearts of people everywhere.
This powerful message was never more evident than 96 years after being sung for the first time. On a crisp, clear morning almost 100 years later, thousands of British, Belgian and French soldiers put down their rifles, stepped out of their trenches and spent Christmas mingling with their German enemies along the Western Front during WWI. In the 100 years since, this event has been seen as a kind of miracle, a rare moment of peace just a few months into a war that would eventually claim over 15 million lives. This short truce began the night before, on Christmas Eve while the soldiers from all sides huddled in their trenches. Somewhere along the line, a soldier began softly singing “Silent Night.” His voice was quickly joined by others and eventually joined together with friends and enemies, all singing together in their own language. Today, a century later, this truce has been remembered as a testament to the power of hope and humanity in a truly dark hour of history. The fact that this truce and the song, “Silent Night” remains so widely commemorated, speaks to the fact that at its heart it symbolizes a very human desire for peace, no matter how fleeting.
And our peace has been fleeting. I wonder how many thousands of times our soldiers, at home and abroad, in war and peace, separated from their families on Christmas Eve, have joined with their fellow comrades, singing “Silent Night.” From WWI, to WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars, I’m sure the message of peace has been in the hearts of all these soldiers as they sang this song and continue to do so today. It doesn’t seem possible, but we have been fighting the conflict against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan for 17 years and it continues today. Yes, peace here on earth is a fleeting thing.
On this Christmas Eve, when we sing “Silent Night,” let us remember all of those in the military who are away from home and singing this carol. May they always find comfort as they sense the appreciation we have as fellow Americans for what they are doing to protect our land. May our voices unite and may we never lose this message of love and peace for all mankind. May this peace rule in our hearts and may we always be thankful for what we have and for those who have sacrificed for us.
Have a joyous and Merry Christmas season.
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