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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Silent Night

The night Jesus was born is traditionally viewed as having been such a holy birth that all of creation (except the human race) was hushed in awe. This is quite possible, and I have no doubt it happened just that way. But I also believe there was a whole lot of noise going on at the same time.

“180 years ago the carol ‘Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht’ was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. The congregation at that Midnight Mass in St. Nicholas Church listened as the voices of the assistant pastor, Fr. Joseph Mohr, and the choir director, Franz Xaver Gruber, rang through the church to the accompaniment of Fr. Mohr's guitar. On each of the six verses, the choir repeated the last two lines in four-part harmony.” From Bill Egan, a foremost scholar on “Silent Night,” and a Christmas Historian. This explains the background of the famous Christmas carol.

This carol which is sung by countless millions every December may have referred more to a silent night in Austria than a silent night in Bethlehem. As I read the biblical account of Jesus’ birth, it’s hard for me to detect the silence implied in the beloved carol. In fact, I seriously suspect it was noisy all night long from a number of quarters. Here’s what I mean:

First, Joseph and Mary had just completed a rather arduous journey by traveling some fifty miles from Galilee to Bethlehem, all the while Mary is near the end of her pregnancy. Because they were required to register for the Roman census, they were on the road with countless other people, all attempting to make it to their homes of record. I imagine the roads were a mess and nearly full of travelers.

Second, Bethlehem, like every other city and town of that time, was overcrowded because of travelers and those who were simply trying to be sure that they and their family were registered. People were running into each other that had not seen each other in many years. There would have been loud talking and some sharing of wine well into the night as stories rolled off loosened tongues. But they were all oblivious to what was taking place in a manger of a dry stall only a short distance away.

Third, the shepherds who had the “night shift” watching the sheep on the hillsides surrounding Bethlehem must have been delighted to be secluded from the raucous noise in town. Little did they realize that they were about to be serenaded by a chorus of angels who were really excited about the “good news” they were bringing. They sang to these stunned and hapless shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Fourth, and last, all of heaven was rejoicing because the plan to redeem the human race from sin and death was underway. As I mentioned in last week’s article, “When God Sings,” there was no doubt that those angels who were not part of the group that was singing to the shepherds were certainly singing in the halls of heaven, along with every other resident of heaven. Now that would be worth hearing!

Some of you may be objecting, saying, “What about the cows, horses, sheep, etc. Wouldn’t they be adding to the din of that night?” No, not really. You see, a manger is a wooden or stone box used to feed livestock. If the inn keeper suggested that Mary and Joseph sleep in the stall that had a manger, it must have been empty of critters and the manger void of feed. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense for them to stay in cramped quarters with domesticated animals that would also be eating from the manger. We know from the record that the baby Jesus was placed in the manger. So, where were the animals? Most likely they were being cared for on the outskirts of town that evening because of all the people gathering for the census. Sleeping arrangements were obviously hard to come by.

As I mentioned earlier, I do believe that there was a time of absolute quiet in heaven that night as the reality of what God was about to accomplish settled over those gathered around the throne of God.

While we humans were clueless of what God was doing for our salvation that long ago night, a verse of scripture seems most appropriate to the occasion: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Have you been saved by the God who loves you? Who delights in you? Who quiets you with his love? Who rejoices over you with singing? If not, then accept Christ and his love into your heart now, today!

Then you will be sure to have a Merry Christmas!

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