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Were it not for a broken organ ...

Justin Kollmeyer's picture

This story is so familiar to so many of you. But, perhaps it will be new information to many, as well. This is the great story of the beautiful Christmas Carol “Silent Night.” I share with you here the way the story is told in the book “Then Sings My Soul” by Robert J. Morgan. Whether “old story” or “new information,” I invite you to glean from this story the true meaning of Christmas.

“It was Christmas Eve in the Austrian Alps. At the newly constructed Church of St. Nicholas (a Lutheran Church, I might add) in Oberndorf, a Tyrol village near Salzburg, Pastor Joseph Mohr prepared for the midnight service. He was distraught because the church organ was broken (ostensibly mice had eaten through the bellows — the long run of wide leather pipe through which the air flowed to cause the pipes to make their appropriate sound), ruining prospects for that evening’s carefully planned music. It came into Pastor Mohr’s mind to write a new song, one that could be sung organless. Hastily (as many tell the story), he wrote the words, ‘Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright ... ’ Taking the text to his organist, Franz Gruber, he explained the situation and asked Franz to compose a simple tune.

“That night, December 24, 1818, ‘Silent Night’ was sung for the first time as a duet (by Mohr and Gruber) accompanied by a guitar at the aptly named Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf.

“Shortly afterward, as Karl Mauracher came to repair the organ, he heard about the near-disaster on Christmas Eve. Acquiring a copy of the text and tune, he spread it throughout the Alpine region of Austria, referring to it as ‘Tiroler Volkslied’ (Tyrolian [the region] folk song).

“The song came to the attention of the Strasser family, makers of fine chamois-skin gloves. To drum up business at various fairs and festivals, the four Strasser children would sing in front of their parents’ booth. Like the Von Trapp children (of ‘Sound of Music’ fame) a century later, they became popular folk singers throughout the Alps.

“When the children – Caroline, Joseph, Andreas, and Amalie – began singing ‘Tiroler Volkslied” at their performances, audiences were charmed. It seemed perfect for the snow-clad region, and perfect for the Christian heart. ‘Silent Night’ even came to the attention of the king and queen, and the Strasser children were asked to give a royal performance, assuring the carol’s fame.

“‘Silent Night’ was first published for congregational singing in 1838 in (a) German (Lutheran) hymnbook. It was used in America by German-speaking (Lutheran) congregations, then appeared in its current English form in a book of Sunday School songs in 1863.

“Were it not for a broken organ, there would never have been a ‘Silent Night.’”

We here at Prince of Peace will gather for Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at 4 p.m. (live Nativity with live animals and the Christmas story portrayed), and Candlelight Communion services at 7, 9, and 11 p.m. The pinnacle of the worship will be the time when every worshipper will hold his or her own candle and in the beautiful glow of those tiny flames — symbolizing that Jesus Christ is The Light of The World — we will sing with hushed and believing voices these great words to its wonderful tune.

Please read and ponder these verses, even though they may look, at first glance, to be so familiar. But this time truly read and ponder their great message.


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.


2. Silent night, holy night, Shepherds quake at the sight.

Glories stream from heaven a-far, Heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia.”

Christ the Savior is born; Christ the Savior is born.


3. Silent night, holy night, Wondrous star, lend thy light.

With the angels, let us sing, Alleluia to our King.

Christ the Savior is born; Christ the Savior is born.


4. 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.



Merry Christmas, everyone! Merry Christmas! “I’ll see you at the manger.”


Kollmeyer is senior pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, located in Fayetteville on Hwy. 314, between Lowe’s and The Pavilion. He invites all our community to worship in Christmas Eve Candlelight Services at 4 p.m. (Live Nativity), and at 7, 9, and 11p.m. (traditional services with Communion for all baptized Christians). For more information go online at or call 770-461-3403. Pastor Kollmeyer will be celebrating his 26th Christmas Eve at Prince of Peace in Fayetteville this year. Please join him and the congregation in one of these great services.

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