Summary: A Christmas Eve sermon based upon the Christmas carol.
Rev. Lin Smalec Salem Church, Waynesboro, PA
“SILENT NIGHT? HOLY NIGHT!”
Christmas Eve, 24 December 2005
When you hear the Christmas story, you get a picture in your head of what things must have looked like at the birth of Jesus. Sometimes it’s interesting to find out how others envision that scene. I read recently about a children’s Sunday School class that heard the Christmas story and sang the beloved Christmas carol, “Silent Night”. They were then asked to draw what they thought the nativity scene might have looked like. One little fellow did a good likeness of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, but off to the side was a roly-poly figure. The teacher, thinking that the boy had somehow worked Santa Claus into the scene, asked him who that was. She wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or even more worried when the boy responded, "Oh, that’s Round John Virgin!" (1)
If we were really truthful, we would admit that our picture of the birth of Jesus is influenced more by Christmas carols and Christmas cards than the actual account given to us in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. That’s because the Gospel accounts are a little short on details! The Gospel of Matthew simply says about that wonderful night, “[Joseph} had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus” (Matthew 1:25, NRSV). The Gospel of Luke gives us a bit more information: “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 for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7, NRSV). And I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but Scripture doesn’t say that Jesus was born in the winter. The celebration of his birth on December 25th has a long and complicated history. No wonder, then, that we depend upon our Christmas carols to draw a fuller picture of the birth of Jesus.
Take, for example, the song “Silent Night”. Look at the first few words - “Silent Night! Holy Night! All is calm, all is bright...” Now think about this for a moment. Silent Night? Yeah, right! How many of you have ever been present at the birth of a child? Okay, be honest now - was it silent? Maybe if the new mom had plenty of drugs! - but come on, folks! Childbirth is noisy, isn’t it? And think about where Jesus was born. Remember what the scripture story tells us - Bethlehem was crowded with visitors coming home to register for the census. It was so crowded that there was no room for Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary at the only hotel in town. So room was made for them in the only warm place available - the stable. Jesus was born among the resident animals - probably cows and donkeys, maybe a few sheep or goats - so Jesus was born to the background music of moos and baas and hee-haws! Silent Night? I don’t think so!
And how about this “All is calm” part of the song? Let’s see - a baby born in a stable, shepherds visiting, angelic choirs singing overhead - doesn’t sound very calm to me! And yet, when we picture this scene, we don’t picture noisy chaos, do we? We picture exactly what the song says - a silent night, a holy night, where all is calm and all is bright.