It is almost Christmas Eve. All over the world, people will gather together, light candles and sing “Silent Night,” marking this as a time of beauty and peace and silence. But, I wonder—if we found ourselves back in that manger in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, would it fit our expectation? I mean given the reality of that situation, it wasn’t exactly a silent night.
We all know the story. Caesar instituted a tax, forcing everyone back to their own city to pay it. As a result, Joseph had to haul himself, and his pregnant wife from Galilee to Bethlehem.
Given that the journey to Bethlehem is straight up a mountainside, we can assume that everyone that night was in a bad mood: Joseph having to pull the donkey up the slope, Mary because she had to ride that donkey—pregnant—and the donkey for having to haul everyone and their stuff up a mountain. If that wasn’t enough, they had to spend the night (all of them in their respective bad moods) in a barn. Not an inn, not a Days Inn, not even a Budget Inn. A barn. A barn where all the animals of the inn were kept.
Imagine the scene as they all settled in for this “silent night”: there was the donkey that had just climbed a couple of thousand feet with a pregnant woman (heehaw, heehaw), Joseph snoring up a storm because he was exhausted, the sheep mad at Joseph’s snoring (baaaa), camels mad at the sheep (camel noise—whatever that is), chickens mad in general (bwok, bwok, BWOK), and, of course, in a few minutes, you add a woman having a baby. Now I know this was Holy Mother Mary, but without an epidural, even Mary might have had a few sounds to add. So you get heehaw, snorrrrr, baaaaa, camel noise, bwok bwok BWOK, JOSEPHHHHH!!! and then “waaaaa!” It wasn’t exactly a silent night.
And yet, the legacy of Christmas and especially Christmas Eve, is peace, silence and quiet anticipation. So how did that happen? Well, Mary and Joseph’s evening may itself not have been a “silent night,” but the result of that evening certainly was. The last sound after all this cacophony was a baby crying. All eyes turned toward Mary and the manger and the chaotic barn got silent. Nothing was heard. Nothing was said. Nor did anything need be said. For all who were there knew: the world had just changed. And silence—silence coming from deep within that chaos, was really the only way to mark it.
Jesus’ birth gives us all the ultimate gift of quiet peace–peace that ironically comes out of a barnyard of sorts. I don’t know about you, but many a day I feel that I am operating in a barnyard through the general chaos of everyday life. In fact, “barnyard” may be the most accurate way to describe the experience of commuting on the subway, trying to meet deadlines, dealing with difficult people, and negotiating the great losses and pain of life. It’s life at its most raw.
But, then in the midst of all this chaos comes a turning point, maybe through prayer, through worship, through meditation, or through grace—where a baby cries and the world shifts and all eyes turn towards the manger. And nothing is heard, and nothing is said. Nor does anything need be said. For all who experience that moment know the world has just changed. And silence from within chaos is the only way to mark it.
Today, we are invited into that quiet place again: that transition from barnyards to beauty, from chaos to silence. It is a gift for us not only at Christmas, but every day of our lives. We simply have to slow down, quiet ourselves, and listen for that faint cry of the newborn Christ. For it is there we find the beauty of a true silent night. Merry Christmas to you all.