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  • Writer's pictureElijah Blalock

The Unsilent Night

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

I am a Grinch who doesn't like a lot of Christmas music, and yes, you can mock me for it. But I need to get something off my chest that may make me sound unspiritual. I do not care for the songs "Silent Night" or "Away in a Manger." I have heard them every year at church for as long as I can remember. I probably sang them in church productions when I was a child. If you hear a Christian Christmas song in a secular setting, it will probably be "Silent Night." I just do not like these songs. For me, it's not the tune or the people performing them. I just think that the songs get some important things about Christ's birth very wrong.

Now, lest I offend anyone, please mind that I am not saying that the songs are totally wrong about everything and that no one should ever sing them, or that you are a bad Christian if you like them. I'm not saying any of that. I heard them at church this weekend, and I enjoyed the performances and meditated on what is good and true in the songs.

But let's be realistic. If you're still reading this, it isn't because you want me to explain what is good about the songs. You want to know why I don't like them. You either secretly agree and are glad someone finally said it (you're welcome), or you are already typing out a response explaining how terrible I am. All I ask is that you leave your comments after you've finished reading this.

Here's what annoys me about these songs and others like them: the trope about how everything was peaceful and quiet when Jesus was born. "Silent night... All is calm, all is bright." "But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes." What? How could anyone who knows the slightest details about childbirth and babies come away thinking that? How could anyone who actually read the stories in the Bible come away thinking that? I get the sentimental value and the desire to highlight what a special night it was, but as nice as it sounds, this simply is not reality.

The world was not quiet. Consider the circumstances that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. They had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which was about 70 or 80 miles, depending on the route they took. Assume they walked 20 miles a day. That's four days of walking while pregnant. Lovely. And for what purpose did they make this journey? So they could pay taxes, of course (Lk. 2:1-5)! Such was the nature of life. One man ruled most of the known world. At his whim, you could be forced to leave your home and make a dangerous journey just to line his pockets with what you worked for. The Jewish people were not handling these circumstances well. God had promised a king from the line of David, but instead, they were suffering under the heavy, and often brutal, hand of the Romans. These are the same Romans who put Herod in power in Jerusalem, the same Herod who murdered his sons and ordered the slaughter of all boys 2 years and younger in Jerusalem. The Emporer Augustus allegedly said, "Better to be Herod's pig than Herod's son." Yet these were the people who ruled the world, and there would be no election held to remove them from office.

But in the middle of tyranny and chaos, God put on flesh and came as a baby. Perhaps what is most remarkable about this story is how unremarkable it is. Christ skipped no part of the human experience but came into the world as all people do. Further, he's born in a small town, in an ordinary home without any special luxuries or separation from the farm animals that were a part of everyday life (if you're interested in some myth-busting regarding the manger and the room at the inn, check out this article). When the Son of God became human, he really became human. Though He did not give up any of His divine attributes, He gained a human body, mind, and soul. If He didn't do this, then He only seemed to be human, which is a heresy that we call Docetism. Jesus really was a human baby. Babies are very needy and have no other way to communicate but to cry. Though we want to be careful to say that Jesus was perfect and without sin, he was still human and went through normal bodily development had normal bodily functions as all people do. To change the song, crying He made. This shouldn't be a shock to us since Jesus weeps as an adult later in the gospels (Jn. 11:35, Lk. 19:41).

All of this makes for anything but a silent night. Mary groaned in labor, baby Jesus cried, animals did what animals do, soldiers kept watch over the city, and men murmured about conspiracies and rebellion. The night was not silent. It was chaotic and uncertain. And yet, God was there. And that's how we know that God is with us—He was there!

Might I suggest that this is a more compelling Christmas story? After all, think about your Christmas. I can't tell you how many people have told me how stressed out they are this year. It's often because we have too many good things—parties to go to, people to buy presents for, and the like. But it's also often because of bad things. Maybe this is the first Christmas without a loved one. Maybe you are ill, or poor, or just completely stressed out. Maybe life has just gone wrong. Add to your personal struggles almost two years of a pandemic, politicians doing what politicians do and peddling fear and division, a broken economy, uncertainty overseas, and polarization at home. People are killing themselves in record numbers, and drug abuse is out of control. Might I suggest that maybe your world isn't that different from the one Jesus was born into?

Wouldn't it be nice if God would just send us the perfect president? Imagine one who got all of the policies right. The economy would boom and none of us would have to worry about money. Crime would go down, and the health care system would thrive. There would be no threat of war, and people here in the states would band together as one nation. Wouldn't it be wonderful? That's what many in Judah hoped for. But instead, God has given a child, but no ordinary child. When God gave us the child, God gave us Himself, in the most unexpected way—helpless, just as we often are, in the middle of sheer chaos. But He does this so that He can be with us, not only on our silent nights, but also in the ones loud with shouting, fighting, groaning, and crying. God has not stood far off from us, aloof from all of our problems. He has injected Himself into the middle of our mess.

But He isn't just another shoulder to cry on, as though He came simply to offer His sympathies. He comes with comfort, yes, but also with healing. He is the antidote to our chaos. Just as the world waited long for His first coming, so are we waiting for His second, when sin and death shall, at last, be no more. If you need hope, consider these words from another Christmas hymn:

Hail, the heav'n-born Prince of peace

Hail! the Son of Righteousness

Light and life to all He brings

Risen with healing in his wings

Mild he lays his glory by

Born that man no more may die

Born to raise the some of earth

Born to give them second birth

Hark! the herald angels sing

Glory to the newborn King!

I’d love to hear your comments! Feel free to agree, disagree, share a kind word, or ask a question. However, please be sure you have read the entire post before you comment, and please limit comments to the topic at hand. You don’t have to agree with me to comment, but you do need to be kind and respectful, especially to other readers.

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