“Silent night, Holy night, All is calm, All is bright.” In the darkness of our Sanctuary, as we lift our candles at its sweet imagery, we dwell in the heavenly peace that it conjures. Many of the carols we sing this time of year echo similar sentiments.
Consider the words from “Still, Still, Still,” where we sing, “Sleep, sleep, sleep, ‘Tis the eve of our Savior’s birth, The night is peaceful all around you, Close your eyes, Let sleep surround you…” Or how about these from another popular carol, “The stars in the sky look down where he lay, The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”
Which is all good and well, until you actually have a newborn. I should know. We just had our second child some seven weeks before Christmas. Our first child, Charlie, arrived in 2014 a mere two weeks before Christmas.
Our younger son, Ollie, came screaming into the world at his birth, with precious little awareness that Christ himself was supposedly born amongst hushed tones and soothing melodies. While Ollie remained asleep in his critically acclaimed performance as the Christ Child in BMPC’s 4:30 Christmas Eve Service, maybe it would have served us better if he wailed the whole time. Try singing about a Silent Night through that.
The truth is that the carols we sing and the Christmas cards we send hardly mirror our own messy lives or the mess that was the first Christmas, next to that feeding trough in Bethlehem, where the place smelled of manure and stagnant water. No one wants to paint a picture or send a greeting of Mary crying because she missed her mom and couldn’t get the baby to nurse. Or Joseph, bone-tired and terrified, trying to make sense of what was happening. Or the donkey, who began to bray and kick at one of the chickens right as the baby was starting to fall asleep and the wailing started all over again. That’s not beauty or holiness as the world sees it. But it’s the truth, or perhaps something quite close to it.
And it’s beautiful and holy to God.
That’s the thing about us humans; we make lots of assumptions about things. We assume that beauty means perfection, excellence, or some measurement of success. But of course, it doesn’t. In the economy of God, it never has. Beauty and holiness are any place where God shows up.
Two millennia ago, God showed up in a backwater region of the Roman Empire as the child of an unwed teenager. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Jesus himself came screaming into the world, filled with the very breath that filled Adam’s lungs in the Garden. And from such a beautifully messy start, all of salvation history unfolded.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “It was God-With-Us. Not the God-Up-There somewhere who answers our prayers by lifting us out of our lives, but the God who comes to us in the midst of them…”
God in the mess. I hold fast to that truth. At least I do these days, when we are awakened at 2:00 a.m. by the wailing cry of our own Christ Child.
Silent Night? Yeah Right. Holy Night? You bet.