Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister
First Congregational Church of Stamford
Sermon for Christmas Eve
24 December 2018
Text: Luke 2:1-20
This morning I woke up while it was still dark. No one was awake in my house except our pet rabbit, who lives in our bedroom. He was hopping around clanking his food dish to let me know he was ready for breakfast. I moved quickly and quietly so as not to wake my wife, then went downstairs to feed the dog. I noticed each creak of the floorboards as I tip-toed to the kitchen. I started the coffee. Then I tip-toed to our three season porch, where I turned on the space-heater and settled down for a half-hour of silent meditation. Even at that early hour, the noise inside my head was already starting up: self-centered thoughts, fantasies about places I might go and things I might do, arguments with family members, ideas for a Christmas eve sermon. My mind is a swirl of ego. But as I sit and simply notice my breath, it begins to quiet down. Without a sound light gradually filters through the windows and fills the porch. Outside snow silently falls to the grass in the backyard. It was a silent morning, holy morning.
Tonight is the 200th anniversary of the first performance of Silent Night at the chapel in the tiny village of Oberndorf, Austria just north of Salzburg on the border with Bavaria. Joseph Mohr was a newly ordained priest who needed a carol for his Christmas eve service, so he paid a visit to the church organist Franz Gruber. He brought with him a poem he had written a couple of years earlier, just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that had wracked Europe for the past 12 years. Gruber set the poem to music written specifically for guitar, since the chapel’s organ had recently been destroyed by flooding from the Salzach River.
The debut performance for that tiny audience on that quiet Christmas eve was well received. Within a few years the song spread throughout German-speaking Europe and then was translated into English. From England it spread to America and throughout the world. Today Silent Night has been translated into hundreds of languages. It is the most well-known Christmas carol of all.
But that’s not all. On November 11 of this year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. In the first year of that war to end all wars, something happened that had never before happened and never would again. After five months of fighting along the Western Front, the guns and mortars went silent. It had been raining for weeks flooding the trenches that the soldiers lived and died in. But on Christmas eve, the air turned cold, the ground froze, and snow silently began to fall. In the dark the western allies heard voices from across no-man’s land. “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. Alles schlaeft, einsam wacht.” It was the German soldiers singing across the fields to the British and French on the other side. So began the Christmas truce of WWI. It only lasted a day or so, but it demonstrated that even in the midst of war, enemies can lay their weapons down.
On this holy night, I invite us into the deep stillness where we meet the Christ child. The Apostle Paul wrote: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” The Christ child lived in the Apostle Paul. He lives in me. He lives in you. On this holy night I invite us into the silence where a true voice can be heard, the voice of the Son of God, the Prince of Peace.