Reader, the world has not ended! And the day is over on the other side of the world, and my family there hasn’t mentioned ceasing to exist, so I think we’re okay.
This means, of course, that we all have to go back to this preparation-for-Christmas thing, this recognition that the remembrance of the Incarnation is going to happen again, that we are still waiting, if only for a little bit longer. We go back to this hush that gets deeper as we get closer, until the singing of one particular song binds so many congregations together.
Silent Night has this incredible power to just hold on, to absolutely flatten everything else out so that there is this one melody, this one voice, this one harmonic moment in time.
Perhaps this is only the case for me; my congregation is one of those that sings this as the last song, as the lighting of candles to set fire to our hearts when we tumble into the snow that finally came for this Christmas Eve. But Silent Night, in its incredible simplicity, is a powerful song. It is a song of wonder, of holding one’s breath in the presence of this absurdly odd Mystery.
But it’s a hard song to reconcile with this world that hasn’t stopped. “Silent Night” lives in this ethereal plane originally intersected by other languages (I still remember the first time I sang it in German and thought it was the coolest thing ever; Talkative doesn’t really know it in any other language, which is also kind of cool). It doesn’t necessarily come down where we live our lives, not least because it’s quite hard to spice up the melody without totally changing it. But right now—there are 26 families in Connecticut who will indeed have a silent night, but it probably won’t feel very holy, and I have no idea how to sing to them of a peacefully sleeping infant. There are hundreds of thousands of truck drivers, janitors, doctors, and pastors who may have a holy night, but it won’t be very silent—it’s a work day for them.
Whence, then, the truth of the song? As the truth of every song that lasts a couple hundred years, I suppose. It’s in the development of a community around well-known lyrics. It’s in the congregations that look forward to it every year as part of Christmas Eve. It’s in the fact that we so badly long for a silent night, for peace and rest, for some moment to let us know that God will pick us up again and we can keep going after this “waiting” that we didn’t have time or heart to do.
And it’s in some of the last lyrics: “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.” Truly. This improbable bundle of nothing was, even then, Something, and Someone, and it is for Him that we’ve been waiting all these weeks, it is for Him that we go to the stable, to the sanctuary, to whatever place is holy for us on Christmas. This Lord Who would become great was born so, was in that uncomfortable manger already King. What an absurd idea. What a wondrous idea! What a strange, and incomprehensible, and powerful idea!
May your Christmas have its silence, and its holiness, and its peace, Reader.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. (Luke 2:18-20, KJV)