Brightest and Best

This post was used Just before Christmas when I discovered it is actually used at Epiphany. never the less I thought it worth another post as Sunday was Epiphany.

Reginald Heber (1783–1826) wrote Brightest and Best. Heber was Anglican bishop of Calcutta and was by all accounts a good man, standing up for Indian rights and opposing the more obvious defections of imperialism. He focuses only on the magi, poetically describing their exotic gifts in verse 3. The carol’s theme is a little like Rossetti’s Bleak Midwinter, with its final verse pondering what gifts we moderns might bring to the manger, having reflected on the humble-looking child’s cosmic pedigree. Heber uses a little less syrup than Rossetti, noting God’s acceptance of heart-felt worship and humble prayer rather than futile and unwanted physical offerings.  

Brightest and Best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us Thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Cold on His cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies His head with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore Him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all!

Say, shall we yield Him, in costly devotion,
Fragrance of Edom and offerings divine?
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, or gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would His favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Hail the blest morn, when the Great Mediator,
Down from the regions of glory descends;
Shepherds, go worship the babe in the manger.
Lo, for His guard, the bright angel attends.

Brightest and Best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us Thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

The Story Behind ‘Silent Night’

The lyrics to Silent Night were written by Josef Mohr, a man whose name was unloved in his home town of Salzburg. Mohr was one of three illegitimate sons to Anna Schoiberin, while his father, Franz, was a mercenary soldier who eventually abandoned the family. To make matters worse, Josef’s godfather was the town executioner.

Perhaps due to his mother’s poverty, the curate of the local Catholic cathedral took Josef in as a foster child. Josef had a proclivity toward music, which was encouraged by the church, and he eventually decided himself to pursue the priesthood. He was ordained August 21, 1815, and was sent to Oberndorf, just north of Salzburg. He there met Franz Xaver Gruber, a local schoolteacher who would become organist at Old Saint Nicholas Church the following year.

Gruber came from equally humble origins, and himself took comfort in his music. The friendship of the two is what led to the creation of Silent Night.

Silent Night—or Stille Nacht in the original German—was created because Mohr needed a carol for worship. On Christmas Eve of 1818, Mohr visited Gruber with a poem he had written a few years earlier. Gruber quickly arranged the song to be played on a guitar with a choir because the church organ was broken. That evening at Midnight Mass, Gruber strapped on his guitar and led the congregation at St. Nicholas in the first rendition of Silent Night.

The original arrangement was a bit faster than the slow, reflective version of the song we know today. But the song was an immediate hit, later being sung by traveling tours and performed before King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Later in the 1800s, the hymn was translated into English and made its way to America by way of a book called Sunday School Hymnal, though with only three of the original six verses.

Today, Silent Night is perhaps the most famous Christmas carol in history. It has been translated into most languages, and the Bing Crosby version is the third-bestselling single in history. A rebuilt Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf is now a cultural landmark (a replica can be found in Frankenmuth, Michigan). The song itself was even declared to be an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011.

1 Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round the virgin mother and child;
Holy infant, tender and mild,
Rests in heavenly peace.

2 Silent night! Holy night!
Guiding star, lend thy light.
See, the eastern wise men bring
Gifts and homage to our King,
Jesus Christ is here.

3 Silent night! Holy night!
Wondrous star, lend thy light.
With the angels let us sing
Hallelujahs to our King,
Jesus Christ is here.