Commentary

“Silent Night”

We’ve all heard the oxymorons, right?

You know, a figure of speech that uses contradictory terms that both make sense, no sense, or nonsense all at the same time. Terms like “active retirement”, “adult children”, “jumbo shrimp”, “fresh frozen”, “authentic replica”, “pretty ugly”, or “a minor catastrophe”. A personal example came this past Thursday, after the first official day of Christmas break for the kids when I said, “Well, this is a fine mess”. 

A true oxymoron, because it wasn’t “a fine mess”, it was a frustrating mess, but I digress. But, before doing so I would like to offer one more rather timely Christmas oxymoron: “Silent Night, Holy Night”.

Think with me for a few minutes…

Right now there is a huge gaggle of last-minute shoppers at Target, Best Buy, Walmart, Marketplace Mall and all points between vying for that perfect last- minute gift. Cars are darting in and out of parking spots, horns are honking, cash registers are ringing, and the whole world feels like it is racing to that Christmas Eve closing bell.

What is the pre-Christmas noise level like at your home? Are your kids a bit excited? Is the television is blaring, the video games bleeping, and little voices asking, “what are we doing next?”

Is your Christmas cooking well underway with the pans clanking, and the oven baking? Is the refrigerator door swinging open and shut, and the dishes rattling as the table is being set? All this hustle to get ready for the great invasion of in-laws and outlaws over Christmas.

Or maybe it’s the sound of scissors snipping, the tape dispensers taping, and the gift wrapping crinkling as you try to get those corners correct. Is someone somewhere in your home screaming quietly as they try to assemble a toy today?  All this noise is the preparation for Christmas.

If this isn’t your story, and you are just on a slow glide into Christmas morning “congratulations!” But chances are, reality is happening somewhere up or down the streets of the neighborhood where you live.

Even at the church, I pastor we will sing, “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve. Yet, truth be told, there will only be a few precious moments of silence as we light candles and are overwhelmed by the majesty of the coming of the Christ Child. And as quickly as we embrace that silence, the candles will be blown out and we all will be off again, out into our not-so-silent nights.

Why do I share all of this? Because I believe that a “not-so-silent night” was probably the case on that first Christmas night also.

The Bible says in Luke chapter 2, verses 1-5, that “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.”

Things were anything but silent as the normally sleepy village of Bethlehem overflowed with travelers coming for the census. The Bible tells us clearly that it was so busy that there was no room at the inn that night. Chances are that the restaurants were also booked, every available parking space was taken, and the streets were crowded with first-century street vendors selling their wares to travelers. People making noise, their animals making noise, and their carts making noise – a bonafide “not-so-silent night”.

Luke chapter 2, verses 6-7 continue: “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.”

If there wasn’t room at the inn then where did this birth happen? Almost every scholar agrees that the events of the “Silent Night” we sing about took place in something like an echoey cave filled with noisy animals on the side of a hill. And it was in this cave that Mary give birth.

Most of you reading this have been present in one way or another at the birth of a child. Now I am not an expert, but I am certainly seasoned enough as support staff in the birth of four children to know that there is nothing “Silent” about any birth.

What I do remember is walking, pacing, praying, stopping, breathing, weeping, crying, crying out, consoling, holding hands, ice chips, encouraging, shouting – and even shouts of joy. Were Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus any different? Most likely not. Births are noisy, messy, beautiful affairs.

I should point out that there is nothing in the Bible that suggests that Mary felt any less pain in childbirth than any woman has ever felt. The economy of words in the birth narratives is to keep the focus on the what of the birth of Jesus Christ, and not necessarily the how.

My point, if you haven’t already caught on, is that the eve of the first Christmas was not a silent night, but it was a Holy night. The hymn “Silent Night” tells us that the Christ child was “tender and mild” –  “the pure light of love” – “the dawn of redeeming grace”, which is why “Allelujah – Allelujah – Allelujah! Christ the Savior is born”, just pours out of us as we sing.

So as you sing “Silent Night” this Christmas, I want to challenge you to see that the silence of the night isn’t the point of the hymn. The point is the presence of Jesus in the midst of all the not-so-silent nights we seem to encounter. A presence in which every doubt is laid silent concerning God’s coming and His great love of you. That in the midst of the mess, there is the beauty of a baby who is Lord, God Savior and King.

“Allelujah – Allelujah – Allelujah! Christ the Savior is born”

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