Malaysian Silent Night (Malam Kudus)

As I sit here at my desk, in my apartment on the seminary grounds, I hear the strains of “Silent Night” drifting up to my ears. Except it has … drums. And voices are mic’ed (have microphones). And though it’s cool outside, it’s 85 degrees (30 Celsius). And they are singing in Malays. It is not a standard “Silent Night” rendition, at least not for me.

But you know the story of how the original “Silent Night” came to be, yes? A Church in Germany was preparing for their usual Christmas organ – yes, with bells and whistles, literally – when the organ stopped working. It was broken, and so at first glance, the celebration was, too. But the pastor asked a friend who was good with guitar to write something that would inspire worship on one of the holiest nights of the year. And so out of the context of brokenness came a wonderful gift – a gift to many generations, a gift to many cultures, a gift that seems to reach into every place in our world.

What made Silent Night so wondrous was that it was perfect for that moment. It met people’s needs – needs they didn’t even know they had, until the bells and whistles broke. And there was something about that song in that moment that meets us in our moments, in our context. It works with full choirs and hesitant solos; it works as a praise song with drums and mics, and as a lullabye. It has been translated into almost every language, played by almost every instrument, put in almost every hymnal and songbook. The moment tonight when I recognized the strains of Silent Night, in Bahasa Melayu and with a steady drum beat, was a perfect moment, when all was right and things matched together beautifully.

So often, when things break or when they’re unfamiliar to us, our minds want to close a door. It is so hard to tell our brains not to panic, not to flinch, not to turn away. That was how the original Stille Nacht (Silent Night, in German) came to be. And it is how Christians across centuries and across cultures can come together to be the Church, because as long as Jesus is the center, we don’t have to panic! He gives us time to come together, he gives us hope that we can open up our rituals and our celebrations and our hearts, he gives us places and moments to be the Church in and for the world. That is why we have the bells and whistles – because we want to rejoice, loudly and with one voice! Yet we have this foundation, that when we have a chorus of languages and need new ways to play our praises, God is there, making a way for all creation to welcome the gift of Jesus.

Love and hope and peace, from our God, to you and yours.

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