Summary: Can we afford to ignore the claims of Jesus of Nazareth this Christmas?

NR 08-12-04

Fact or Fiction

Come with me if you will to the snow covered mountain paths of Oberndorf, a small village in Austria.

It is a cold Christmas Eve morning in 1818.

As you look across the mountains you will see the local vicar Father Joseph Mohr (1792-1848), winding his way along the path to the village of Arndorf – to visit his friend Franz Gruber (1787-1863).

Mohr is taking with him a poem that he had written some two years earlier in 1816. He desperately needs a carol for the midnight mass that evening - that is now only a few hours away.

He hopes his friend, Gruber, who is the church’s choirmaster and organist - can set his poem to music.

Gruber looks at it and that afternoon composes a melody for Mohr’s poem.

However they can’t play the carol on the local organ because mice had eaten the bellows.

So Gruber composes the music for guitar accompaniment.

And so a few hours after finishing the composition, Gruber and Mohr perform their new song in St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf.

And that evening, the sounds of a brand new carol breaks the “Silent Night” of the mountain village of Oberndorf.

Is that the true story of the origins of the world famous carol – Silent Night or is it fiction?

Well - actually it is a mixture.

It is fact that Joseph Mohr did write the words in 1816.

It is fact that Franz Gruber did write the music on Christmas Eve in 1818.

And it is fact that Silent Night was first performed in St Nicholas’ Church Oberndorf on Christmas Eve of 1818.

Sadly, the story of the broken church organ appears to be fiction.

The reason apparently that Gruber wrote the tune for guitar was simply that his friend Mohr had a special love of the instrument.

And for many people the Christmas story is in many people’s mind is like the story of “Silent Night” - a mixture of fact and fiction.

The fact is that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. Jesus was the first Christmas present - God’s Christmas present to the world.

The fiction about Christmas is that the Christmas story is simply a nice romantic story – an antique version of “Little House on the Prairie”.

And it is also fiction that it is irrelevant to the sophistication of the 21st Century.

We have 329 churches here in Kent directly or indirectly dedicated to the little baby who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago in a far off land – Israel.

So what was so special about Jesus?

Someone wrote this about Him

“He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.

He grew up in still another village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty.

Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book.

He never held a high office.

He never had a family or owned a house.

He did not go to a University of College.

He never visited a big city.

He never travelled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born.

He did none of the things associated with greatness.

He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three years of age when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial.

He was nailed to a cross between two thieves and his closest friends fled into the night

While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth.

When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Today he remains the central figure of the human race, and the leader of mankind’s progress.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man on this planet so much as that one solitary life.” (adapted from “One Solitary Life” – Anon)

This Christmas, may I ask you why Jesus has had such an effect on our society in England

1. Has it anything to do with his teaching?

2. Has it anything to do with that outrageous claim that Christians make - that Jesus died on a Cross and rose again from the dead?

3. Has it anything to do with his mission here on earth. That Jesus was the Son of God who became man - as a little child at Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago.

He lived and died to bring people everywhere back into a relationship with God – a relationship, which had been broken by our wrongdoing or sin?

Whatever you think, I’d like to leave you with a thought.

Can we really afford to ignore the claims of Jesus the Carpenter from Nazareth this Christmas?

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