Silent Night – A Christmas Carol Study

This is the third blog post in a series dissecting Christmas Carols. I’ve been going through the lyrics, and explaining how they are wonderful testaments to the glory and love that is the birth of Jesus, Son of God.

You can check out O Little Town Of Bethlehem (HERE), and Away in a Manger (HERE).

This post is about the classic carol Silent Night.

Silent night, Holy night

There are a lot of Christmas carols that refer to the night of the birth of Jesus as ‘silent’ and ‘still’.

While I do not think there are any records of a specific lull, and Bethlehem being inundated with many families coming to register for the census ordered by Caesar Augustus, I think it is referring to the lack of royal heraldry that should surround the birth of a king.

Jesus, the saviour and promised king, was not born in a palace surrounded by servants; he was born in a stable (although exact locations are still debated) and laid in a manger with animals and a handful of admirers around him. Despite all of the ‘clues’ throughout the Old Testament that pointed right to Jesus, barely anyone recognised the signs. It was both silent, and Holy.

Round yon virgin, mother and child

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This line might be mistaken as saying “young”, commenting on Mary’s age. However, it is important to know that there are no indications that Mary was especially young. Instead, it refers to the prophecies and actualities of the event. In the Old Testament, we hear of Isaiah, a prophet who spoke God’s word during the time when Israel and Judah were separated. He foretold events that were close to happening, as well as those which would come long after he died. One of these things was the virgin birth of Jesus.

Isaiah 7:14 reads: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

A virgin becoming pregnant and having a child was not a common thing. It was a miracle, meaning it wasn’t happening all the time. But there is one ‘person’ who could make it happen, and that was the Creator God who made and implemented these laws of nature in the first place. But you might ask, why did God choose a virgin birth? There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, as I wrote above, a virgin giving birth was not something that happened. No one had heard of it before, and it was a clear sign that this event was the one God had spoken about since the first sin.

Secondly, even though all humans are sinful, and Mary was not immune to this, Jesus was not considered a sinner before birth, because Joseph was not technically his father. In ancient Hebrew culture, it was the head of the house – the man – that influenced the sinfulness of the whole family. When we talk about Adam and Eve, even though Eve was the first to break God’s rules, Adam was, in essence, responsible for her and her actions. The male line carries the sin, and with Jesus’ male line coming from God, he was sinless even before birth.

Holy infant, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

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At every stage, Jesus bucked the human-ideal of a King. Being referred to as ‘tender’ and ‘mild’ would not have been a compliment for them. However, Jesus never changed his mild demeanour. He taught against violence and hate, and performed wondrous miracles without demanding attention.

As the Son of God, the creator of Heaven, Jesus lived there before coming down to Earth, and this repeated line seems to point to his knowledge of his Godliness even as a young babe.

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light

When you think of Jesus, you immediately think of love. No one, not even the Pharisees desperate to demean his name and Godly-personage, could truthfully state a sin he committed.

Jesus also called himself ‘the Light’. John 8:12 records: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This is a beautiful representation of God’s love and power, as light is not only comforting – as in a night-light to little children – but light drives out the darkness, darkness cannot drive out the light.

Radiant beams from thy holy face

How many of you have seen images like the ones above? Have you ever thought about why Jesus – and Saints in Catholicism – have their head surrounded by a circle of light?

This ring of light is called a halo and features in all sorts of art. When we see them in relation to Jesus, it is a way of attempting to capture the light that shone from his face. No, Jesus did not actually have a glowing head, it is a symbol of his pureness and the love that emanated from him. One definition of ‘radiance’ is: great joy or love, apparent in someone’s expression or bearing. (As a side-note, an example I found for this definition is about a bride’s radiant smile, which is an interesting connection, because Jesus is often referred to as being ‘married’ to the church).

A few Bible verses use this imagery.

The Lord make his face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
Numbers 6:25

So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel
saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face
shone, and they were afraid to come near him.
Exodus 34:30

Who is like the wise man and who knows
the interpretation of a matter? A man’s
wisdom illumines him and causes his stern
face to beam.
Ecclesiastes 8:1

There are many, many more examples, which you can find HERE.

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus was only just born, and already he was being praised for his Godliness and Holiness. Not only was this because the people knew who he was, but because it was the beginning of all they had been promised. They knew what he had come to do, and for that promise to have come true, it meant all the other promises would as well.

The Israelites hadn’t always had a smooth existence. We all know about the Israelites being held as slaves in Egypt and God’s miraculous rescue. However, it was far from being the only example. With every human tracing back to Adam and Eve, it is natural the story goes all the way back to them. God spoke to Satan, and Genesis 3:15 reads: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” This ‘he’ is Jesus, who Satan knew would one day destroy him. So at every chance he got, Satan has tried to turn people from God, and mess-up God’s plan to have Jesus be born. All too many times Israel turned from God and got their deserved punishment, and at the time of Jesus’ birth, they were under Roman rule. So with Jesus the fulfilment of the birth, they knew they were on the ‘dawn’ of their redemption from Satan and sin.

Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

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It is in the New Testament that we learn the most about Jesus. Throughout the Old Testament, we are told what to expect and look for, but it is through the Gospels that we fully learn about our Lord, Jesus. Most of the accounts tell of Jesus’ ministry, with a few telling of his birth, and very little about his childhood.

So does that mean Jesus was not God when he was younger? Did he not know? I, personally, believe Jesus knew he was God from birth, and that is what this repeated line means to me. They were not back-projecting praise when he became God later-on in life, they were saying that he was God since birth.

Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight

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Despite a lot of Christmas carols saying three Kings came to visit Jesus, there are no actual account of this. Instead, it was shepherds, and then Wise Men (there are no times when it says three, people just assume that because they brought three gifts).

The shepherds were watching their flocks one night (also noteworthy is that Jesus most likely wasn’t born on December 25 because the weather wouldn’t have permitted shepherds and their flocks at that time). Suddenly, Angels of Heaven appeared to them. These beings are not the angels seen above, and were strange looking creatures.

I found a good description on a website called What Christians Want To Know:

Angels are not composed of physical matter but are spirit
beings created by God (Heb. 1:14).  They can resemble human
form when God permits or wills it (Gen. 19).  There are different
orders or ranks of angels in heaven.  Those that covered the
throne in heaven were mighty seraphim angels.  They had six
wings that hovered over the throne of God.   Two of the
seraphim’s wings covered their faces because God is so holy that
even the seraphim angels could not look upon God (Isaiah 6:2).
Another set of wings covered their feet for they were in the midst
of holy ground where God abided and Moses (Exodus 3:5) and Joshua (Joshua 5:15) had to remove their shoes while in the presence of
God.  Angels do have some human features like feet, voices,
and faces (Isaiah 6:1-2).

If you witnessed something like this, you would “quake at the sight” too. Even if they were in human-like form, there was still something about them that wasn’t usual.

Glories stream from heaven above
Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.

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We read in the above section that the shepherds were terrified of this strange sight. Imagine their amazement when the angels began singing! ‘Hallelujah’ means ‘Praise the Lord’.

I recently got a children’s picture Bible (reviewed HERE), and I think it explains this part so all people can understand:

Then, all at once, the whole sky was full
of angels. They were singing together,
praising and thanking God for his gift to
the world. “Glory to God in heaven,” they
sang, “and peace on earth to those who
love him.”

What a spectacular sight and something to write about!

Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.

What is a ‘Saviour’? The dictionary defines it as: “a person who saves someone something from danger or difficulty.” Sounds interesting, but still kind of bland. Jesus is the Saviour, but he is definitely not bland.

There’s a lot to this, so I’ll summaries it in points and can explain further upon request.

  1. We were made to be sinless and live with God. God is holy and perfect, so can’t be around sin and let it continue.
  2. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were telling God that they wanted him to take a step back, so he did.
  3. With God’s eternal life for us now gone (remember, God can’t let sin continue and thrive), we were going to die. God didn’t want that to be the end.
  4. God taught Adam and Eve (who taught the continuing generations, etc.) how to conduct sacrifices. This death of animals wasn’t pleasant, and each time, they would have to see what their sin was doing (there was no death or suffering before the first sin). This death was to take the place for their death, making them once again right with God. But these were only animals, and it wasn’t enough to cover ALL of their future sins.
  5. There was only one sacrifice that could cover the sin, and that was a pure and sinless being. Not only this, but this being needed to defeat death. Death is an enemy to be feared, and needed to be overcome. Jesus was this being.

Jesus was – and is – definitely our saviour. He saved us from the danger of sin and eternal death.

Will you be thinking about these reasons the next time you sing Silent Night?

What is it about this song that you love the most? Let me know in the comments below, or write your own blog post and link me!

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Away In A Manger – A Christmas Carol Study

Welcome to my second Christmas Carol study.

Yesterday I published my first, about O Little Town Of Bethlehem (which you can check out HERE), and today I’m looking at Away In A Manger.

Have a listen, read my thoughts, and leave a comment.

Let’s jump right in.

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.

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When you think of a King, you think of lines of royal parents, being born in a palace, surrounded by powerful people and adoring subjects. This was not the case for Jesus. Despite being the Lord, Creator, and Saviour, Jesus was born to a humble virgin, surrounded by animals, a handful of admirers, and no real bed.

A manger, also called a trough, is a wooden construct used to hold food for farm animals. It was definitely not a place for a baby, let alone God. For God to choose for his son to be born into this environment, shows how much he loves us, and that Jesus was right in saying he came to serve, not to be served.

The stars in the sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay.

Among the stars shining bright in the night sky, was the Star of Bethlehem.

Prophesied many, many years earlier, God placed a star, brighter than all the others, above the place where Jesus was. This led the Magi (not Kings, and there are no records of it being only three) to him, where they knelt down and worshipped him.

Seeming almost unaware of his Godly status (although it could rightly be argued that there was never a time when Jesus didn’t know he was God), the newborn baby Jesus slept peacefully.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.

This is a very well-known part of the story of the first Christmas. However, there are no records of baby Jesus not crying. Jesus came to Earth, not just to die and rise again so we can spend eternity with God, but so we could have a close relationship with him.

How could you talk to someone (which is what praying is – a conversation with God) who had had no experiences like you had? You would have a hard time. This is why God came down to Earth; to connect with us. This means he probably would have cried as a newborn baby.

I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle til morning is nigh.

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The second half of the song takes us forward in time, to after Jesus died, rose, and returned to Heaven to reign.

From his place in Heaven, we know Jesus is watching over us (I don’t know if Heaven is physically ‘above’ us), and that is worthy of our love and devotion.

It also shows that while God is above us, looking over everything in his creation, he is also close to us, standing right by our beds.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.

Matthew 19:14 records Jesus’ words:

“Let the little children
come to me and do
not hinder them, for
to such belongs the
kingdom of heaven.”

Not only do vulnerable children mean a lot to God, but we are all his children, and we all mean a lot to him.

This last line is what it is all about. When Adam and Eve sinned (essentially telling God to take a step back) we separated ourselves from eternal life with God. God promised he would not just let us go, and he came down as Jesus to give us a second chance. If we put our faith and trust in Jesus and acknowledge that he took our penalty of death, then we get to spend eternity with him in heaven.

This Christmas carol focuses on two great things about Jesus: his birth, in which he lowered himself to be born as a lowly human; and his position in Heaven. Jesus is part of the Holy Trinity, and holds a supreme position in Heaven. He loves us, looks after us, and deserves all the songs of praise we write.