One of the most beloved of all Christmas carols says:
“Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright…
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.”
Every year on Christmas Eve night our church holds a service featuring a live nativity. Inside the chapel. Complete with live sheep and goats, donkey, and a camel! Last night at this service we had, as always, some unpredictable and interesting action. The donkey balked at coming in – several times. The camel relieved himself in the front of the chapel. One of the goats decided to lay down in the aisle on his way out of the chapel and didn’t want to move. And of course with kids playing most of the people parts, this just adds to the commotion!
And the evening always concludes with the attendees singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. The irony is hard to overlook.
I think about that very special night when Jesus came to earth as an infant, born of the virgin Mary. I think about the shepherds in the field, looking into the night sky to see an angel making the special announcement to them, and then the angel joined by a host of other angels praising God. Certainly not a “silent night.”
Picture this group of excited shepherds rushing to find the baby king they just learned about. With a herd of sheep (good shepherds wouldn’t leave the sheep behind). They find him as they were told – lying in a manger. While it’s true the Bible doesn’t tell us what sort of structure they were in (so we can’t know), mangers are typically found in a stable or barn. If indeed the event happened in a barn, in addition to the bleating of restless, excited sheep, there would have been the sounds of other animals as well – probably horses, donkeys, cows, or whatever animals may have been in the stable or barn (it’s hard to imagine since we don’t know how big the structure was). And since giving birth is not a quiet event it surely stirred up the animals who were there! Of course, you doubtless had a crying infant to add to the commotion. Certainly not a “silent night.”
Outside the barn the city of Bethlehem was alive with activity. Remember, Mary and Joseph traveled there because of the census that was ordered by the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, requiring every male to return to his hometown to be counted. Every inn and other lodging place seemed to be full, indicating how busy and alive the city was. Certainly not a “silent night.”
Yet aside from all the likely noise and commotion, the song makes sense from Mary’s point of view. You see, when you are in the center of God’s will and doing exactly what he wants, it’s possible for things to be completely chaotic around you and for you to feel at peace. Not that you are oblivious to what is around you, but you are unfazed by it.
Can you see how that would describe Mary? So much noise. So much chaos. Yet so much peace.
Seems perfectly accurate in light of that, to describe the night as a “silent night.”
As we look at our own circumstances, our own lives, may we all be in a place where we can know such peace. That despite the noise around us, we are not bothered by any of it and maintain our focus on what is important. We maintain a peace in our hearts that we describe in such beautifully simple terms as “silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”