Tag Archives: Connecticut

Silent Night – Despite the Odds (#3 in the series)

When Franzl and Joseph inspected the damaged organ on the day before Christmas in 1818, it became patently clear that the organ would be silent until spring melted the snow to allow the organ mender to get to their village. To have a Christmas Eve Mass without music would be unthinkable; to confront Father Nostler with the news would be ridiculous. There was no way either of them was going to face the wrath of the strict old man. No, they had to come up with some other solution…

Maybe, they thought, they could have the choir sing a cappella, hoping that they would manage without instrumental support. But what to sing? What is simple enough, easy enough, to teach the choir in an afternoon’s time? The two men were desperate to find an answer.

This is when Jospeh Mohr produced the page on which he had written a poem recently.

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

Alles schläft; einsam wacht.

Nur die traute heilige Paar

Holder Knabe im lockigten Haar

Schlafen in himmlischer Ruh…

If, after all these years, we read these lines, we get to understand them a bit better – especially if we remember the life of Joseph Mohr, illegitimate son of a deserter. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think his childhood must have been horrible. Look at the words carefully: it is actually a lullaby; the perfect picture of a baby being rocked to sleep by two adoring parents. Were the words the result of many a forlorn evening during which a lonely, unwanted child wished he had a normal family?

Of course, the English translation focussed much more on Jesus and the Afrikaans translation even brings in Joseph, the earthly father of Christ. In the original German, the one Joseph Mohr wrote, the accent is on the infant that may rest, because Jesus der Retter ist da (Jesus the Saviour is there – not born as the words got translated). It would be totally wrong (if typical of human nature) to start a debate here on what exactly Joseph Mohr had in mind when he penned the words. The point I’m trying to make is the obvious one: Joseph Mohr maybe wrote these words for a thousand reasons – but certainly not to be sung at the main Christmas Eve Mass as a carol. Next time you hear the words, it won’t be wrong to think of all the lonely children who wished they had somebody to love them.

But let’s return to the two men next to the broken organ. Franzl was impressed by the simple words his friend had written. Maybe…just maybe…

Now that they found a ray of hope, all he had to do was to put a melody to the words. As the more musical of the two, he stuffed the bit of paper in a coat pocket and trudged back home through the snow. He promised Joseph he’d give it his best shot. The instrument he chose to use for the melody? The spinet his father bought him, of course! The same one that came as an apology because Papa Gruber initially refused Franzl’s plea for music lessons. Only when he thought he had the music sort-of-sorted out, did he take his guitar from the wall to play and sing the song for the first time.

That afternoon Mohr, Gruber and twelve children gathered in the priest’s small study. Six of the choir’s best boys and six of the girls had been selected to participate in the gamble to ensure music and song accompanied the evening’s sermon by Father Nostler. Twelve children and two men to substitute for the full choir and the solemn organ – in the hope that the congregation would be pleased and that Nostler would be satisfied. Even if the children could memorise the words and remember the melody, there was one more little issue to consider: Gruber would accompany the choir on his guitar! They were on the verge of testing Father Nostler’s short temper to the utmost.

That evening the congregation gathered in the little cathedral. Of course the news of the organ’s problem had spread through the community and it is fair to assume that curiosity contributed to attendance that evening. Nostler knew about the organ, of course, and assumed that the choir would sing an appropriate song – but no choir was gathered on the balcony. We can only guess at his irritation – what was Mohr up to?

Father Nostler gave his usual, solemn Christmas sermon, citing Luke 2:1-14 and reminding the congregation of the miracle in Bethlehem. After he finished he closed the Bible and looked up at the empty seat in front of the organ. Where was the choir?

This was the signal for Mohr, Gruber and the twelve children to march in from the vestry to arrange themselves before the altar. Gruber’s guitar was decorated with red and green streamers, the girls wore them in their hair and the boys had the same streamers folded into rosettes attached to their stockings. The congregation gasped. Father Nostler held up a hand to put a stop to the proceedings. Nobody was going to ridicule the birth of Jesus with fancy streamers and a guitar, for goodness’ sake!

Joseph Mohr ignored the priest’s attempt to stop the little choir from singing and addressed the audience. He told them about the organ and said that he and Gruber had prepared a special song for the occasion. Without further ado (and without a glance to Nostler) Gruber shifted his guitar into position and plucked the first notes.

Mohr with his fine tenor voice and Gruber with his baritone fell in with Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!. The melody and the words blended perfectly. When they came to the end of the first verse, the children fell in with Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh… The clear young voices held the audience in their spell as they repeated the line as a benediction.

The verses followed each other until the children assured the congregation that Jesus the Saviour is here. Then complete silence descended on the people in the church. The song had a profound effect on the congregation – and on Nostler. He rushed through the communion and immediately retired to his study to write an outraged letter to the Bishop of Salzburg.

Mohr and Gruber stood at the door as the congregation filed out. They wanted to know what the people thought about their song even if they knew that Nostler was hugely upset. The reaction was mixed, to say the least. Some thought the song was acceptable, a few complimented the melody and yet others thought it was a sort-of reasonable substitute for the real Christmas songs they were used to.

When the last worshippers disappeared into the crisp night, the two men stood alone for a while. They had similar thoughts: Nostler was going to have their heads for this. Then again, the congregation seemed mildly pleased with their effort and surely they did the best they could under the circumstances?

Gruber held out his hand to his friend. “Merry Christmas, Joseph.”

As it turned out, Silent Night resurfaced again many years later; but the rendition of the song on Christmas Eve, 1818, may well have been the last.

Let’s leave the later history of Silent Night for the moment and consider the background once more. When faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, we often turn to others to solve them. We stick to convention and work within the rules. What Gruber and Mohr did, was to face the issue and make the most with what they had. Mohr’s harsh childhood may have driven him to a wasted life and he could have blamed his absent father for many things – but he didn’t.

Mohr did what we all do from time to time – he dreamt of love. He wrote a poem about the perfect family. And when the time came, he shared his poem with the world. Although he was destined to be a poor priest all his life, he gave us all one of the most precious gifts – one that is new and fresh every year when we gather to wish each other Merry Christmas.

One more thing: we all have Nostlers in our lives. Whenever we venture into the unknown, Father Nostler is there to remind us that the earth is flat and we’re going to fall off the edge if we test the horison. Today being the end of the Mayan calendar is a perfect example of how the Nostlers of the world affect some of us.   Look carefully at your colleagues, family and friends – Notsler is there to prevent you from achieving the (seemingly) impossible. And yet, if you have the courage to pursue your dreams, you’ll find that Nostler is wrong: the horison is not the end.

So, how did Silent Night survive? In the rest of the story we’ll meet organ fixers, kings and famous composers. Gruber didn’t become famous overnight (not even in his lifetime) and Mohr died penniless – yet it remains the world’s favourite Christmas song. Silent Night isn’t only a song; it has become the symbol of overcoming adversity. It’s there to encourage us when the odds against us are stacked sky-high. It brought hope to soldiers in trenches; it encouraged others over the years in times of hardship. It’ll bring solace to the folks in Connecticut and a thousand other homes where an empty chair reminds them of unimaginable sadness. Like in the past, it will be sung with the same nostalgic longing in far-off mission stations, in snow-bound little Alpine villages, in the mud-and-grass huts on Africa’s plains, and in the great cathedrals of many magnificent cities. Jesus, the saviour, is there…

Mohr’s desire for joy and beauty was not in vain.

But, like I said: never rush a good ending…

A Message from Rolbos to the People of Newtown

We are a curious bunch! All through history, mankind has never ceased asking “Why?” when things go wrong—and even when they don’t. We want to know, to understand and to analyse events—sometimes to learn from them, sometimes to realize what value there may be in it and sometimes just to have peace of mind. When we don’t understand, we tend to feel frightened and threatened. What we cannot comprehend causes unease.

There is a difference between wisdom and knowledge: knowledge refers to the past while wisdom projects to the future. If we look at the future wisely, we find rest in the fact that we belong to God. If, however, we take into account only the past with all its mistakes and catastrophes, we analyse the knowledge we have accumulated and feel threatened. Knowledge may be frightening at times for it contains the details of so much hardship and suffering, especially when you consider threatening diseases or even cancer. Knowledge describes the course and treatment of disease based on the history of others: some of who did rather poorly.

Wisdom says it is all right; whatever is in store for you, the future is safe with God. Knowledge dives into depression; wisdom soars on the wings of faith, hope and love.

When the “why me?” question crops up, we run into our mental archive, desperately leafing through our thoughts, trying to make sense of what is happening to our lives. We can only use what we know, and we only know what has happened before. Trying to answer the “why me” with logic and insight leaves us more miserable than before. Physically we might find the occasional answer here and there, explaining breaks in chromosomes and exposure to different chemical or biological agents. This helps, and should form part of our approach, but it is not really the answer we are looking for, is it? You want to know why this set of circumstances happened to you, specifically, don’t you? You want to know why this has occurred in your life and not in So-and-so’s life. Look, he (or she) is a terrible person and does horrible things. They fornicate, blaspheme, lie and steal; they live corrupted lives: surely then, they should suffer as a consequence, not you? (See Malachi 4:1. It isn’t only in recent years that these questions puzzled mankind!) The result of a logical approach is a search for answers that ends in frustration because logic often fails to comfort us in times of stress.

If only the answers were simple! Like many of Life’s big questions, it needs careful thought before even attempting an explanation of sorts.

Human nature is a finicky condition: we simply accept the periods of joy as our right and justify it on the grounds of hard work, good luck or inherited genes. Often these times pass without even a second thought. We convince ourselves that we have earned those days in the sun and that it is our right to enjoy the fruit of our endeavours. Sometimes, we don’t even go that far and never even consider it strange that we live in health and happiness, while all over the world, we are quite aware of famine, need and war. It is easy to turn a blind eye to anything that is beyond our intentionally limited field of vision! But once the magnifying glass of desperation is used, we contest the justness of it all. We are experts in denying the laws of gravity: after all, what goes up must come down. Good times don’t last forever and all things come to pass.

We are faced with basically two options: either everything we live through is a conglomerate of coincidences or…not. Life may be the stringing together of a series of events that, in the final analysis, might seem to be coincidental. If this is not the case, then everything happens according to a specific planned course. While this may not always seem logical, it is the basis of our faith. Logic is inadequate to explain God and can only touch the surface of His planning. We believe that God is the architect of the entire universe, the world and every individual person. We believe in a Unique God who creates life with its infinite and wondrous variations. What we don’t believe in is the random assignment of lives to unspecified people. We don’t believe in a life outside God’s meticulous planning. God does things with His logic even if it does not seem so to our limited insight; He has divine wisdom to do His planning with, which is far removed from our human and limited logic.

We just cannot believe in chance ruling our destinies.

If we believe in God, then we believe everything is ordained by His wisdom and planning.  As we have seen, your very being was determined by God, in the misty beginning, before Time. You are a servant of His rule and cannot excuse yourself from His plans. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul greets them and puts it very aptly:

Grace and spiritual blessing be to you and (soul) peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah), who gave (yielded) Himself up (to atone) for our sins (and to save and sanctify us), in order to rescue and deliver us from this wicked age and world order, in accordance with the will and purpose and plan of our God and Father. (Galatians 1:3-4, TAB)

The key here lies in the will, the purpose and the plan of God. He sent Jesus to save and sanctify us according to His will and purpose.

Why did God feel it was necessary to deliver us from evil times and a terrible state of the world? Because He cared and found it was necessary to save all of us, including you. We are part of God and that is why He has, throughout the history of His association with mankind, gone to such extreme lengths to ensure our spiritual survival. Covenant followed covenant in the Old Testament, even though the people disappointed God repeatedly and sometimes even rejected Him outright. Eventually Jesus was sent as the final sacrifice for our sins.

Why would God do this and why did Jesus say: “And shall God not avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?” (Luke 18:7, KJV) and: “Fear not, little flock: for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32, KJV).The Message puts it into wonderful words:

 What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and how He works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how He works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of losing out. You’re My best friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.

Once again we are confronted by the fact that God wants us to be victorious in faith for then we expand His Kingdom. In a respectful way, God’s expanding Kingdom requires believers who have absolute faith in their King.

If you are part of His plan for His Kingdom, then you have certain duties and obligations. Christ said:

 Anyone who intends to come with Me has to let Me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow Me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Sacrifice is the way, My way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:24, Msg.)

Remember the wonderful definition of sacrifice: giving up something good for something better. Sacrificing your planning in favour of God’s arrangement for your life is like that—you deliberately opt for something better.

 You cannot follow Christ if you have not been able to separate your earthly woes from your Heavenly rewards. Suffering is part of education. Going to the first day at school is not a happy time. Writing exams are stressful while preparing for assignments and tests is not a pleasure. Oral examinations are simply terrible. Once you have passed the exam, however, things suddenly seem much different. You hang your certificate or degree on your wall with pride, for all to see and admire. Your certificate entitles you to bigger rewards, states that you have fulfilled certain conditions and that you do not ever have to prove to anyone that you grasp the content of the material you had to study in the past. (Try doing that twenty years after graduation!) Having denied yourself the freedom to go to the movies or hang out with friends, you took up your cross of studies; the end result is glory and pride.

God wants you to hang up your Divine Degree in Faith on your wall of Life, but it is going to cost you! With the discipline of faith, you will find your way through this exam even if you have to take up your cross of suffering, according to the will and purpose and plan of our God and Father. Once you have studied the curriculum of Suffering 101, your exam is easy and the reward is great.

For each of us, God has a definitive curriculum to study. He will grant you your easy subjects, too. We fly through the handbook on Joy, Laughter and Happiness. We struggle a bit with the complex work in Social Abilities, while some of us have to take extra classes in Humility and Meekness. The subject most of us have a problem with is Suffering. God knows your heart and your soul and He knows that in your study group, you have an influence on the rest of the class. He does not presume that we all are the same. Some of us are leaders, others follow. Some sit in front right next to the Teacher and are examples to the rest while in the back of the class we find the quiet bunch, where the surprise of a spiritual genius might be found. If you check out some of the characters in your class, you’re bound to find some who may need a lot of support, while others may be termed as caregivers. Some students in the class excel right from the first day, while others may peak at a later date. There is even place in the classroom for the Average Person, who turns out to be the hero when the unexpected happens or who goes through life without ever apparently being challenged. A lot of us just scrape through the course, only to realize that our real growth occurs at a later stage or reflect the absorbed the lessons quietly as the years pass. When you think about your life, you will find that you have a place somewhere in that great classroom of God.

Now God, in His great wisdom, does not decree that we all have to study Suffering in the same way. Some students get a little thin book on Suffering, and they breeze through life with hardly a bump. Sometimes, however, a candidate is issued with an encyclopaedia of many volumes to study. These Christians may look over at the next desk and say: “But Johnny only has two pages to study! Please Sir, are you sure this is my book?” It is only at graduation, when we receive our certificates from the Divine Dean at the heavenly throne, that we will understand completely why Johnny had such a little bit to learn and some of us were entrusted with such a sturdy volume of work. Suffering is not for the men or women who were not carefully selected for the task. And it is never, ever without purpose or reason.

The Bible explains a bit of the curriculum thus: “But… if ye suffer for righteousness sake, happy are ye” (I Peter 3:14, KJV). Happy, in suffering? Yes, if God chose you to be special, if He wanted you to play a role nobody else could, then indeed you should rejoice at the position God has put you in. He walked through that great classroom and, amongst all the men and women He found that you were the one that had all the attributes to fulfil a very specific task. He knows, for He planned you carefully. You were chosen, not randomly assigned, to suffer; and difficult though that may be, there is a place in that verse from Peter: “…happy are ye.”

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10, KJV). “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12, KJV). It is impossible to be happy, rejoice and be blessed when faith is absent in your life. It may seem as if faithless persons experience fulfilment in their lives but careful study of these lives reveal a superficial, temporary basis for happiness. There is no value in joy if it is not supported by faith in God. Jesus was very explicit about joy:

 If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. (John 15:10-11, KJV)

Remember that these words were spoken by the Man who suffered terribly for us. He, knowing His fate and what was to come, rejoiced in the love of God, and wanted our joy to be full. How much joy is required to make joy full? If you consider how much time, money and effort is spent in this world to gain some feeble self-gratification, you start understanding that life without faith is joyless and futile. The joy we experience during our lives can only be established and made full by God. Laughter, sex and drugs are not building bricks for joy. Wealth does not buy happiness. Fast cars are fascinating, winning the lotto is exciting, getting a bonus is great, but joy only flows from the fountain of love at the foot of the cross. Happy are ye that suffer in growing your faith, for your joy will be made full.

Faith is the missing link in suffering. Once faith is part of the recipe, suffering starts to make sense. If we truly believe in the Almighty Lord and if we accept His credentials as the God who has power over everything (Matthew 28:18), then our faith will not leave us any doubt that individual suffering is part of God’s Plan. Hebrews 11:6 states “But without faith it is impossible to please Him… He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

Seek God and then be rewarded. “Seek ye Me, and ye shall live…” (Amos 5:4, KJV). “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:33, KJV). The Bible’s compass points us straight to God: in everything we should first seek Him, and then we may “rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him…” (Psalm 37:7).There are many rewards for seeking God but surely rest in the Lord and patience represent the pillars of wisdom leading to the joy of faith in the Lord.

Still, why me? echoes in the minds of many faithful. It takes a lot of guts to realize the teaching of faith: to rejoice in the fact that God had chosen you to be part of something much bigger than your imagination. He is enlarging your borders and increasing your influence in Christ. Jesus said: “If ye continue in My Word, ye are My disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32, KJV).

“Why me?” is asked in the captivity of this material world. When we discover the truth that sets us free, then “Rejoice, it’s me!” is shouted in victorious spiritual freedom.

(Taken, and adapted, from “Facing Surgery with Christ‘. Published by Tate.)

Listen to the end – it is harrowing to think what people do to each other, but there is hope…

We share your tears…

Rolbos is often cynical. Sometimes sarcastic. Even funny.

But today Boggel’s Place is closed, the laughter stilled and the quirky remarks silent.

Our hearts go out to those residents in faraway America, where the events in Newtown, Connecticut, have caused so much sadness. Our prayers are that the Moms, the Dads, the families and friends, the teachers and everybody involved with this atrocity, will experience the love and grace only God can provide.

Please know: we pray for healing and peace.

God be with you all…