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.
And you know, in a sense, I don’t think we are totally wrong! I like to think that in the midst of noisy childbirth chaos, there was a sense of calm, a sense of holiness, because the power of God was upon that little stable, surrounding that mother and father and child. You see, it may not have been a truly silent night, but it was indeed a Holy Night!
It was a Holy Night because in the birth of that little child, God had fulfilled a promise made to the people of Israel thousands of years before. God had promised to send a savior, a Messiah, an anointed one who would deliver the people from their oppressors and would free them from their sins. And this was not a joy meant only for Israel - the prophets had proclaimed that the Messiah would come, not only for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of all the nations, all the people of the world. On that Holy Night, a baby was born who would grow up to be that promised Messiah.
It was a Holy Night because all of God’s plans and purposes were coming together. The glorious night of Jesus’ birth was but the beginning of the story, that would lead some thirty years later to the glorious morning of Easter! The child that was born would grow up to be a teacher, a preacher, a healer, and most of all, a savior. The child Jesus would grow up to take upon himself the righteous punishment of God for the sins of all humanity - dying on our behalf, cruelly tortured and killed on a cross. But that was not the end of the plan, of God’s plan - for death could not hold the son of God! Jesus was resurrected by the power of God, he rose from the dead, he rejoined his Father God in the heavenly places, and he promised that he will come again to bring final peace to our world. On that Holy Night, a baby was born who would grow up to be our Lord and Savior.