Theology of Worship: Silent Night

Verse 1

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.

Another Lucan hymn, this hymn revolves around Luke 2:8, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” The hymns covered so far have been rather upbeat, jolly hymns. Silent Night, however, takes a more somber tone. Yet while it appears to sound somber, there is still joy. Unlike most Christmas hymns, this hymn is being sung quietly as if for the sake of Infant Jesus to “sleep in heavenly peace.” Our Saviour was born on a silent night, and His holy birth made the night holy. In the other hymns I’ve covered, it portrays the birth of Jesus as a loud celebration, calling for all people and creation to sing praises. Here, however, it portrays His birth rather calmly. With His virgin mother, the Holy Infant Jesus is tender and mild. Therefore, let Him sleep in peace.

Verse 2

Silent night. Holy night.
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing, Alleluia.
Christ, the Saviour, is born!
Christ, the Saviour, is born!

Now the hymn moves to Luke 2:9-14, “‘And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!'” The shepherds “quaked at the sight” of the angel, and the multitude of the angels—the “heavenly hosts”—who soon accompanied the angel sang praises of Alleluia that Christ the Saviour is born.

Verse 3

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.

Now comes the comforting, yet short, Gospel message of the hymn. The language of Jesus as Son of God in Luke appears in 1:31-32 when Gabriel the angel said to Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” He is the pure light of love, for He has said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). “Radiant beams from Thy holy face” is a typical metaphorical description of Jesus’ holiness. St. John described His face this way, “His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Revelation 1:14). The face of the Infant Jesus may not have shined in such a way since it was pre-ascension, yet the imagery still captures His holiness.

Now comes the Gospel message, which is the purpose of His birth on this silent, holy night: “with the dawn of redeeming grace.” Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus uses redemption language to speak of His act of releasing us from sin. He says it most clearly in Matthew 26:26-28, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” This is not symbolic language, as some Baptists and Calvinists purport. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus made it clear that the cost of our redemption from sin was His body and blood. This comes from God’s Law, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11). We were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20), that price being the life of God’s only Son.

Galatians 4:4-7 summarises it best, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

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