“Not So Silent Night” a message by Dr. Bruce Havens Coral Isles Church, U.C.C. December 24 2022 Luke 2:1-20 nrsv 1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room. 8 Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, 19 and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.
Do you ever wonder about our love for Silent Night? What is it about that song that we love so much? We end our Christmas Eve candlelight services with it. It’s a sacred tradition and we love it so much.
But I wonder because the truth is I imagine that first Silent Night was not so calm and bright and our Christmas’s today seem more noisy and busy than silent and peaceful.
Think about that first Silent Night and the birth of Jesus. We are told there are loud songs of glory from angels from heaven. He’s born in a stable with animals mooing and baa-ing and neighing. And every parent knows that with babies a silent night might actually worry you because you are so used to the crying, the fussing, the diaper changing and the noise of your own heart wondering if you are doing something wrong. So much inner and outer noise that if everything was silent you go and check to be sure the baby is still breathing, maybe even pinch her to see if she wiggles and cries a bit.
The story tells us there were visitors coming and going. First shepherds and then wise men or magi or whatever you want to call them. And who knows how many relatives with casseroles and wanting to “just hold the baby a minute.” No silence to be known if that night was like most of ours with a new baby.
Today our preparations to celebrate a Silent Night are more noisy than silent. There are parties, and shopping, the noise in the kitchen – pans clanging, timers and out on the streets beeping traffic, sirens wailing, and the inner noise of worry, tension, frustration and “rigging up the lights” on the sacred Christmas tree. Perhaps it is this very noisiness that makes the song of a Silent Night a holy thing, a wish for something sacred that could still our inner storms and outer chaos.
Sure there are a lot of beautiful songs of this season and many that we might love as much or more. Who doesn’t wish for “Joy to the World,” that all would know the Savior has come? Who doesn’t dream of a White Christmas, even if you would prefer it as a dream and not a reality to deal with shoveling and heating bills and being unable to navigate unpassable streets and avenues. I imagine we might hope some day to hear angels from on high singing “Glorias” and more. There’s no doubt the poetry and imagery of that song we sing to send us off to another dawning Christmas day is maybe more meaningful than the story told in Gospel and retold in sermon after sermon.
Perhaps tonight as we prepare to celebrate, as we ponder the meaning of this holy day we love so much, we long for poetry and melody and harmony that makes the silence sacred. The song and poem and rhythm and rhyme may be the best way to honor the silence even as we break it with songs and sermons and the things we love about this Christmas season. Let me offer some words of poetry that perhaps can capture some of what this song, this season, this celebration bring to our hearts and souls and spirits – a poem before we sing the song of this Silent Night one more time and light a candle and hope for peace on earth and joy to the world one more time as well.
The night the silence sang
I wanted just to know it, see it, hear it, feel it
like a cold and rushing wind embrace the thrill of hope
and see the bright and gentle scene that night still brings
yet a family in a car, no place to lay their heads
a widow staring far as if heaven showed his face among the stars
a lonely, foreign teen crossing mesa vistas crossing countries longing
for a home, a future, life
in that silent night a heartsong rings
and a warm and hopeful flame
flickers across the sky a flare of brilliance bright
sings silently, a song, a stirring overture of love and peace
on earth and somewhere goodness soothes the soul
an ancient story echoes songs of angels high and bright
we heard and saw and felt
and hope for love more real
and song of silence to break like dawn from dark
across ships and oceans far,
and hills and deserts near
the news that came once so long and silent night ago
so holy holds our hearts and souls to a moment then seems lost
now we listen for a vision
beyond tired, ancient prose
in a rhyme or painted brushstroke or a song from angels far
to know and feel the silent night is real and so is
peace on earth and love and joy
a vision of a God who came a silent midnight long ago
and comes in moments holy, and hours too lowly
to bring us peace on earth goodwill to all, a song we sing as if
our very lives might still be found and heard and lived, AMEN.