Silent Night, Violent Night
I love Advent. It is the grandest celebration of God’s most visible presence on earth. When Jesus came, the Creator entered his own creation in the most intimate of ways. Things have not been the same since. He left, but his Spirit remains. God has always been active and present in his creation. But, the first Advent was the most personal engagement. The word “advent” notably means- “arrival of a special person”. God as Creator fully identified with the creation in the advent, assuming all of our troubles and our enormous, unsolvable dilemma in full force. While he was here, he proclaimed peace and authored a solution in his own flesh (the cross, death and resurrection) from which we and all creation benefit both now and throughout eternity. And, it all started with the adventure that was launched in Bethlehem.
Many songs try to recreate that first night and day. Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, See in Yonder Manger Low, O Holy Night, What Child is This, and Silent Night all try to give us a full appreciation of the events of that very first night or morning when Jesus drew his first breaths. They are attempts to recreate the event itself. They set the atmosphere or try to recreate it.
One of the most common atmospheric conveyances is calm. All of these songs conjure up a serene setting. We know from history that in all reality it was somewhat chaotic in a chaotic time. Mary and Joseph were not locals and not welcomed. There was no place for them. And, since it was a time of census, Mary and Joseph were not the only people on the move and displaced. Mary was not likely the only pregnant woman on the road. We also know that King Herod was paranoid at best. His paranoia coupled with unrestrained power would later result in an attempt to end the life of Jesus. Instead, it led to the deaths of many children. Though some of those troubling realities might not have invaded the stillness of that particular night, it was not likely the serene setting we like to imagine.
Having said that, I know why we picture the scene with tranquility like we do. It was, after all, nighttime when the angels appeared to the shepherds. Night is generally quiet. And, the event itself was the beginning of calm that marked Jesus’ aim for the world and personality while he was in it. Our most reverent moments find us quiet in the presence of the Almighty. That fits the quietness and serenity we picture for that night. The message that launched there was one of “peace.” Peace by nature, brings stillness. I still like to sing the songs with a picture of serenity in my mind. With no disrespect to Sandra Bullock, the night Jesus was born would make a much better movie titled, “While You Were Sleeping.”
This year, however, something else is simultaneously at play in my mind. I am watching violence against Jesus’ people at an all-time fevered pitch. I cannot mention some of the countries where the violent attacks are occurring. But, the persecution by paranoid governments are still in play as they were 2,000 years ago. In fact, I have not seen anything like this in my 40 years of ministry. Many of the people who are being persecuted, abused and imprisoned are my friends. I know them very well. We have laughed and cried and prayed together. We have eaten dinner and shared our dreams and hopes together. I know their families. They will be spending Christmas apart or abused. I will not mention the countries where they live in order to keep the authorities who might read this from having more fodder to hurt my friends. But, it is a shame. It is a blight upon humanity.
The one who came to bring peace on earth brought it. His people are carriers of that peace. Yet, his people are being harassed with a level of violence that is a shame to humanity. The ones who are doing the most good are receiving the worst harm. The ones who are praying for their leaders are being harassed by them. The ones who are bringing nothing but good news to those who need it most are being treated with nothing but bad news with evil intent. I weep for my friends as our globe is in significant distress. I weep as paranoid and angry people are taking out their vengeance upon the people who are working hardest to bring peace and purpose.
But, I am still going to sing all of those songs this Christmas time. I am going to picture a peaceful setting. I am going to herald the Prince of Peace. I will imagine a still night that was and one that is coming. I will reflect on the child who came inconspicuously to bring a calming salvation to the world and his rest that will last forever. I will be singing Silent Night on a night that will likely contain unspeakable violence. And, as I sing, I will be singing it as a prayer. Please join me.