On Christmas Eve in 1818, exactly 200 years ago, Austrian Priest Father Joseph Mohr and his parish music director, Franz Gruber unveiled the Christmas Carol “Stille Nacht”- Silent Night. The first performance at the Church of St. Nicholas was met with “the general approval of all” according to writings of Gruber. Father Mohr had written the lyrics as a poem earlier. Gruber composed the music. It endures today because it paints a hopeful scene of a world as it can be.
It is still the most recorded carol. It is central to the Christmas story. And hope is central to the Christian Faith.
Too many of us take for granted the fundamental role that faith, especially the Christian Faith has played as a foundation for our government and our society. It is no longer fashionable in sophisticated gatherings to discuss, but history is replete with examples that demonstrate this.
The Father of our country George Washington, like most of the founders was a man of great faith. He went so far as to say, “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.” Impossible is a pretty brittle word that leaves little wiggle room.
De Tocqueville wrote that “religion is the first instrument of democracy.” He recognized that religious faith inspired self discipline and self discipline was essential to self governance. Faith led to goodness and that America’s greatness was tied to her goodness. You may recall, “America is great because she is good and if America ever fails to be good, she will fail to be great.” It still rings true today.
Jefferson said that Almighty God was the author of our liberty. He wrote, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty...” Historic revisionists not-withstanding, Jefferson understood that our entire democratic experiment was predicated on the proposition that rights flow from God to the People, not from some government agency or the King. In the United States we began our constitution with the simple words, “We the People.”
Christians believe in a loving God. A God who so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son into the world to spread the Gospel and to atone for our sins. We believe that his son showed us how to live our lives here on earth. Imagine a world where everyone lived by the Golden Rule and actually did unto others as they would have done to them.
The great motivator and insurance magnate W. Clement Stone said that all human beings need three things to be happy; something to do, someone to love and something to believe in. It’s been said that there are only two world views, one believes in a God centered universe. The other believes in a man centered universe. Sadly, too many Americans and their political leaders that have adopted the man centered philosophy. They have little hope. It explains many things.
People without hope are angry much of the time. They are especially angry with people who do have hope. Since they are not bound by the same moral standards of practicing Christians, they are more likely to believe that achieving their ends justifies bending the rules. If their goals are to weaken or destroy President Trump for example, then using a dossier paid for by his enemies to spy on his campaign is acceptable…as long as you don’t get caught.
Hopeless people are far more likely to rage against the very idea that we can, or even should Make America Great Again. They are willing to bend election rules and abuse absentee ballot guidelines. They debase our language, lacing their angry outbursts with vile profanities. It shouldn’t surprise then that they are more likely to refuse to accept the legitimacy of a duly elected President.
These people never learned the relationship between self government and self discipline. They somehow have convinced themselves that we can build a future on the quicksand of humanism. That we won’t degenerate into tyranny as William Penn warned. Perhaps the light that pierced the darkness will, as with Saul on the road to Damascus, cause the scales to fall from their eyes.
We can hope.
May this season of hope cause us all to be thankful for the many blessings we Americans have received. Content in the knowledge that a loving God watches over us, may we all “sleep in heavenly peace.”
Gil Gutknecht served six terms each in the Minnesota and the U.S. House of Representatives. He writes about healthcare and political issues of the day.