Not So Silent Night

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


I put up Christmas lights last weekend — wrapped the eve of our house with yellow bulbs and set up a two-dimensional crèche in the front yard. I like doing that. It’s a silent, twinkling announcement that our household celebrates Christmas as more than a cultural holiday. 

But sometimes our nativity scenes and Advent calendars give us the wrong idea of that first Christmas. The calm, solemn, retiring portrayals. The carols about “peace on earth” and a “silent night.” The bathrobe-clad Children’s Ministry retellings that invite us to “sleep in heavenly peace.” 

That’s all bunk. 

The first Christmas was a loud, frustrating, uncomfortable, unsanitary, and painful affair. Delivery rooms and livestock stables are not tranquil places. Ask any mom how much “heavenly peace” she experienced during childbirth. Over Mary’s pained cries and Joseph’s anxious admonitions, you probably couldn’t hear any cattle lowing if you tried. 

Even after the birth, there wasn’t much rest. Newborns cry often and animals don’t sleep quietly. A baby in a drafty barn is a formula for a sleepless, troubled night. 

Nor was it quiet in the fields. Those shepherds we commemorate with our nativity scenes didn’t get the big announcement with a muted “ding!” on their iPhones, nor from a newspaper or town herald. Luke 2 says there appeared a “great company of heavenly host”  to shout the report. The sight and sound of other-worldly creatures was so overwhelming that verse 9 says they were “terrified.” This was not an angelic barbershop quartet. This was a gospel show choir with celestial amps! 

Despite our serene holiday caricatures, the first Christmas was a terrifying, confusing, and loud. The incarnation of almighty God happened with a clap and crescendo that would shake the world, for those who have ears to hear. 

I wonder what else we miss in this familiar story. I wonder what lessons from Bethlehem lie hidden under centuries of tradition, adaptation, and wrapping paper. This Advent, I’d like to find out. And I’d like you to come along. Beginning Sunday, every day for the 21 days, we’ll unpack another angle on the Christmas story. We’ll try to look afresh at the manger, the mom, and the Messiah. We’ll examine the scenes, characters, and significance of this story. 

I have no idea what we’ll find. 

Maybe we’ll find that the wise men weren’t so wise, or that the shepherds smelled bad, or that the incarnation story isn’t over yet. This isn’t something I’ve been planning long. None of these posts are written yet. Let’s just examine the story every day and see what we notice. If you want to come along, just sign up at www.theryansanders.com/join

My guess is, whatever we find, it won’t be silent.