Silent night. Is it ever? It certainly wasn’t on the night Jesus was born. Upstairs in the “inn” there would have been multiple families all crowded together, sweaty, smelly, and loud. The “barn” in the back would have housed all the beasts of burden who carried those families and their travel gear to Bethlehem for this tax season. Outside a multitude of armies of angels are shouting out praises to a group of sheep ranchers scared out of their minds. Just up the hill in Bethlehem King Herod is sharpening his swords while waiting eagerly for the “wise guys” to bring back word of this newborn king. Nothing is quiet.
Christmas Eve wasn’t ever quiet in my house growing up either. I was the second of eight kids and if ever we were a rowdy bunch it was on Christmas Eve. We had a Christmas Eve candle light church service that evening but most years, before we left for that, we would have had our Christmas Dinner. Some times we would try to do it afterward but that wasn’t wise. Eventually, after dad passed away we scrapped the dinner in favor of ordering pizza from Dominos and picking it up on the way home from church.
But lets go back to the Christmases where both parents were present. After the dinner one parent would try to load all of us juveniles into the van while the other one finished wrapping up his presents he finally got around to buying that afternoon. Then they would sneak them all out of the parent’s bedroom and set them up around the tree. I don’t believe it ever came to blows for us kids waiting and crammed into the car. No bloody noses or chunks of hair pulled out. Not us. We were all the happiest bunch of ragamuffins you would ever see all decked out in our red and green best. On the way home from church we would take the scenic route so all the girls could “Oooooh, Aaaaaah, Preeeeeeety” the Christmas lights while all the boys moaned about how long it takes to get home for Christmas. Priorities, man, priorities. We’ve got presents to tear into. Once we finally get home there would be a “happy birthday Jesus” cake and a talent show (somewhere there is a video cassette tape of four boys rapping to DC Talk’s Yo-ho-ho) Then there would be a reading of Luke’s telling of the Christmas story that occasionally would be dramatized. Finally we would dive into the presents. Fun night? Definitely. Traditions galore? Most certainly. Silent Night? Not on your life.
My nights to this day are still not silent. I’m not just talking Christmas but every night. Honestly, I don’t do well with silence. At least half the time I am sleeping with the lights on. Almost always, there is music playing and those times when there isn’t, it is because I am listening to one of my podcasts. A good chunk of time I will also have a book open and will kill off at least a couple chapters before my eyes get too heavy to track the words. It is almost as if I am in a battle to remain awake and sleep comes only when my body can no longer fight it off. I don’t do well with silence. I never have. Even still, silence is necessary.
It is almost certain that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem and gave birth to Jesus some time in late summer or early fall. We celebrate in December because it is nine months after the Passover (14 Nisan). As early as 204 AD many Christians believed this spring day was when the birth of Christ was announced to Mary. It is also the day he died and according to early Jewish and Christian traditions it was the day the earth was created. Interestingly enough, there is evidence that the Mithraic holiday: Deus Natalis Sol Invictus was moved to coincide with Christmas, not the other way around as modern myth likes to portray it… but I digress. My point is that Mary likely would have been able to take her baby out into the cool autumn night air. It would have been quieter. It would have been an opportunity for peace, and fresh air. Have you ever smelled a packed stable? No thank you. Like many of our Christmas hymns, Silent Night is filled with myth and tradition more than with fact. Even still it is a beautiful myth.
This Christmas season, like every Christmas season is going to be loud. It is going to be hectic. There will be plenty of chaos and, quite frankly, that is just how I love it. I thrive in chaos. For goodness sake, I teach kids. t is practically a job requirement that I enjoy noise. Even still, there will be a need for moments of silence. The more frantic our pace, the greater the need to step outside, hold a baby, get some fresh air… sit in silence. There’s a favorite bench at a park just blocks from my home. I try to find myself there for a moment or two at least once a week. I don’t bring music. I don’t bring my e-reader. I have no agenda. If I time it right, I can get there just as the normal foot traffic slows to almost nothing. I can watch a young couple holding hands as they slowly stroll along. I can watch a mom walk at a leisurely pace while her preschool age child flits ahead and behind her exploring a beautiful new world. It’s getting to be the time of year where on most nights I can even watch the mist from my exhales. I can see them dancing in the breeze, painted in shadow, and illuminated by the street light a few meters away. Sometimes I will watch nothing. I will just close my eyes and listen to the silence. I don’t do well with silence, but I need it. If twenty-three hours of my life are cluttered with noise, that one evening hour of silence most vital.
When do you get your silence? Is it before the rest of the world wakes? Do you have a spot you sneak off to for your lunch break? When can you get alone to just listen to the silence and the still small voice of the Father? Do you have such a moment? As we get closer to the chaos, noise, and joy of Christmas make it a habit to find moments of silence and peace.