There is a recent tradition amongst my extended family which is to ask everyone to name their 3 favourite songs from a particular era or type of music. Not surprisingly, at this time of the year it is your favourite Christmas songs.
Now some of my friends have gone for the expected songs –‘ Last Christmas’ (1984) by Wham!, or ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ (1973) by Slade. Partly because I lived the music culture of the 70’s and 80’s I usually choose something like ‘ A Winter’s Tale’ (1983) by David Essex, ‘Step into Christmas’ (1973) by Elton John or The Pogues’ ‘Fairy tale of New York’ (1987). However, in recent years I have tended to favour the Sinead O’Connor version of the great Christian hymn ‘Silent Night’ which has the ability to cut you to the bone, to mentally slow you down, allowing you to meditate and commune with God.
As Christians, singing has always been important- indeed historically, it was identified as something that marked us out from other people. As far back as the 2nd century, the judge and governor Pliny the Younger commented about the Christians in Turkey saying:
“they would gather early in the morning and sing joyfully to one another, singing hymns to Christ as to a God”.
Of course, we are commanded to sing at various points of the Bible notably in James 5:13:
“Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms”
During Advent and running up to Christmas it is hymns that are at the forethought of our singing worship. I think ‘Silent Night’ speaks to me more than any other hymn as it captures through its lyrics and its slow mediative music, the upcoming event of the Baby Jesus being born (“Silent Night! Holy Night!, Shepherds quake at the sight!, Glories stream from heaven afar, Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!, Christ the Saviour is born!”)
The history of ‘Silent night’ is also very powerful- it came about through an Assistant Pastor at a church in Austria (Father Joseph Mohr) who took a six stanza poem that he had written to the church’s Choirmaster (Franz Xaver Gruber) for him to set music to it. The church organ was not working so they improvised with a guitar and a choir. That day was Christmas Eve 1818- it was first performed in that church (St Nicholas near Salzburg) later that day during Christmas Mass, and the rest they say is history.
So let us do as Psalm 100 commands us:
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth” Serve the Lord with gladness”, come into his presence with singing!”
To listen to the Sinead O’Connor version, please click below: