This the Second Sunday of advent. Now I confess I am always confused about which Sunday is which in Lent except the third Sunday is always joy. I went with the UCC format for this year which Started Last week with Hope, this week is Peace, next Sunday is Joy and the last Sunday of Lent is Love.
As I reflect on Peace, I can’t help but state the obvious, that we are about to celebrate and honor the peace that comes in the form of a small child.
I remember when I was young, Christmas held so much magic for me and truly it still does just in a different way. The story goes that my father never really had a Christmas as a young man. His step father was rather strict and thought it frivolous to spend money on such things. So, when he married my Mother his first experience of a family Christmas was with my Grandparents.
Making Christmas good for us kids became very important to him. The Christmas tree would be delivered by Santa and we would wake up to the tree all decorated with a train running around it, and Gifts underneath. Christmas morning we were allowed one toy from our stocking before getting dressed for morning mass. We would come home to a big breakfast and it wasn’t until the dishes were done that, we were allowed to open our gifts.
Well life goes on, kids get older and traditions change. Eventually Santa decided he could not afford the time to bring us our tree anymore and, so we got to buy the tree and decorate it ourselves which was always fun. First, we had to get the tree straight, which consisted of Mother directing dad, he was so patient, it wasn’t until the third or fourth full circle of moving front to back left to right that he would decide they were done and it was straight enough.
Then dad had to fight with the lights. It seemed like a constant battle that he would never win. Mother cherished her memories and almost every ornament had a story and the story had to be shared and the ornament admired. It took some time to get the tree together. After the angel was placed neatly on the top of the tree, we would carefully unwrap the tissue around nativity set and its creche. It had shepherds and sheep there was a cow and a donkey. Of course, there was Mary and Joseph and an angel hung upon the pinnacle.
The three kings were often set off in the distance because they do not arrive until epiphany. During the 40 days of lent we would place a piece of straw in the manger and Jesus would be laid in the straw on Christmas eve. Oh, and the creche had a music box on the side. Once wound it played silent night. Often in the evening I would get under the tree looking up from below and play that music box. It was such a peace filled sound to hear silent night plucked out on the metal spines of the little music box. Sometimes I would fall asleep under the tree as silent night played.
The silent night story is one of my favorites at Christmas. Not far from where I grew up is a silent night chapel an exact copy of the chapel that stands in the town of Oberndorf. “In 1818, a roving band of actors was performing in towns throughout the Austrian Alps. On December 23 they arrived at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg where they were to re-enact the story of Christ's birth in the small Church of St. Nicholas. Unfortunately, the St. Nicholas' church organ wasn't working and would not be repaired before Christmas. (Note: some versions of the story point to mice as the problem; others say rust was the culprit) Because the church organ was out of commission, the actors presented their Christmas drama in a private home. That Christmas presentation of the events in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke put assistant pastor Josef Mohr in a meditative mood.
Instead of walking straight to his house that night, Mohr took a longer way home. The longer path took him up over a hill overlooking the village. From that hilltop, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village. Reveling in majestic silence of the wintry night, Mohr gazed down at the glowing Christmas-card like scene. His thoughts about the Christmas play he had just seen made him remember a poem he had written a couple of years before. That poem was about the night when angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on a hillside. Mohr decided those words might make a good carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service.
The one problem was that he didn't have any music to which that poem could be sung. So, the next day Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Xavier Gruber. Gruber only had a few hours to come up with a melody which could be sung with a guitar. However, by that evening, Gruber had managed to compose a musical setting for the poem. It no longer mattered to Mohr and Gruber that their church organ was inoperable. They now had a Christmas carol that could be sung without that organ. On Christmas Eve, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing their new composition to the accompaniment of Gruber's guitar.
Weeks later, well-known organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived in Oberndorf to fix the organ in St. Nicholas church. When Mauracher finished, he stepped back to let Gruber test the instrument. When Gruber sat down, his fingers began playing the simple melody he had written for Mohr's Christmas poem. Deeply impressed, Mauracher took copies of the music and words of "Silent Night" back to his own Alpine village, Kapfing. There, two well-known families of singers — the Rainers and the Strassers — heard it. Captivated by "Silent Night," both groups put the new song into their Christmas season repertoire.
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. The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. In 1834, they performed "Silent Night" for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, and he then ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas eve. Twenty years after "Silent Night" was written, the Rainers brought the song to the United States, singing it (in German) at the Alexander Hamilton Monument located outside New York City's Trinity Church. In 1863, nearly fifty years after being first sung in German, "Silent Night" was translated into English (by either Jane Campbell or John Young). Eight years later, that English version made its way into print in Charles Hutchins' Sunday School Hymnal. Today the words of "Silent Night" are sung in more than 300 different languages around the world.” By the time the song had become famous throughout Europe, its writer Joseph Mohr had died and its composer was unknown.
Although Franz Gruber wrote to music authorities in Berlin stating that he was the composer, the melody had been assumed to be the work of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven at various times and these thoughts persisted even into the twentieth century. The controversy was put to rest in 1994 when a long-lost arrangement of "Stille Nacht" in the hand of Joseph Mohr was authenticated. In the upper right-hand corner of the arrangement, Mohr wrote, "Melodie von Fr. Xav. Gruber."… Father Joseph Mohr's final resting place is a tiny Alpine ski resort, Wagrain.
He was born into poverty in Salzburg in 1792 and died penniless in Wagrain in 1848, where he had been assigned as pastor of the church. He had donated all his earnings to be used for eldercare and the education of the children in the area. His memorial from the townspeople is the Joseph Mohr School located a dozen yards from his grave. The overseer of St. Johann's, in a report to the bishop, described Mohr as "a reliable friend of mankind, toward the poor, a gentle, helping father."
I share this story because this song blesses so many, as we contemplate peace, I pray that each may experience a silent night. We watch and wait with so many. We walk besides people, literally and figuratively, who are watching for and hoping for a night when there is no war, when there are no fights or hate crimes on our streets, when the world can be still and rest in a peace filled silence.
There was a night like that once, a Christmas miracle if you will, a miracle of a silent night. This Christmas Miracle has been shared over and over again. The truce of 1914. It is said that on Christmas eve during world war I the troops in the trenches were so close to one another that they could hear each other talking. They could smell the aroma from each other’s food. You see; “Pope Benedict XV, who took office that September, had originally called for a Christmas truce, an idea that was officially rejected. Yet it seems the sheer misery of daily life in the cold, wet, dull trenches was enough to motivate troops to initiate the truce on their own — which means that it’s hard to pin down exactly what happened.
There is a range of differing oral accounts, diary entries and letters home from those who took part, which makes it virtually impossible to speak of a “typical” Christmas truce as it took place across the Western front. To this day historians continue to disagree over the specifics: no one knows where it began or how it spread, or if, by some curious festive magic, it broke out simultaneously across the trenches.
Nevertheless, some two-thirds of troops — about 100,000 people — are believed to have participated in the legendary truce. Most accounts suggest the truce began with carol singing from the trenches on Christmas Eve, “a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere”, as Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment recalled, in a document later rounded up by the New York Times. Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade described it in even greater detail: “First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”
The stories go on saying some kicked a make shift soccer ball around…others shared gifts of cigarettes and a drink. For some the truce lasted only a few hours for some the fighting did not resume till after new years. It doesn’t matter how long the Christmas truce lasted, what it says about human nature is amazing. Left to their own devices with no interference from politically motivated ranking officers Peace found a way.
Peace found a way in spite of all that was happening around them. Peace found a way in the midst of a battle to enter into the hearts of two armies. Though it was the hymn of oh come all ye faithful. It could have just as easily been silent night. The point is on that night in the midst of hatred and war people experienced peace, the peace of Christmas.
So, I pray that we may put this year behind us, as a people, as a community and as a nation and we can start to watch for peace. You see during the Lenten season when we watch for hope we become the hope, when we watch for love we become that love and when we watch for joy, we become joy. So, if we choose to watch for peace, we will see Peace, we will be peace, and we will be a way for peace to be manifest in our world.
Christmas eve and Christmas day are when we celebrate God breaking into the world as a gentle, helpless baby. As Isaiah 9:6 says “for unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called wonderful counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of peace” May the prince of peace reign in our hearts and guide us to find a better way that we may begin to bring peace to the world. That we may begin to bring peace to our community.
What does it mean to work for peace and to seek peace? It means doing the small things like collecting toys for Christmas or feeding our neighbors. It means finding ways to help us better serve each other through partnering with other organizations. Perhaps we may want to look at a mission trip or partner with another congregation or two to make a mission trip. Maybe it means working with the recreation department to celebrate our senior citizens and the work many do for our community.
Perhaps it means finding better ways to eat responsibly and continuing to get nutrition to those in need. We may find new ways of bringing peace through opportunities offered by the United Church of Christ by attending the annual gathering, by participating in the called to serve day.
I pray we can watch for peace as a congregation as we continue to work, to play, and to dream of new possibilities. I pray we can watch for peace as we seek out better ways to work for a just world for all and how that will continue to manifest for us as a congregation as well as on the state and national levels. But more immediately I pray we can watch for peace each day one during this Lenten season. I pray we see the gift of peace in those around us. As we share Christmas in our own way, I pray that the peace we are watching for arrives and stays in each one’s hearts and carries us through the year to come. Amen.