I Need a Silent Night

On a chilly Christmas morning, my family converges in the living room as we always do—pajama-clad and sleepy-eyed, the room lit with the glow of a thousand Christmas lights (seriously, I have a problem), our favorite Christmas album playing in the background.

Attempting to contain the chaos, we put our six children through the painstaking ritual of watching one another discover stocking-held treasures and ribbon-clad gifts . . . one . . . by . . . one. And so it goes for about a half an hour, until suddenly we find ourselves drowning in a disposable sea of tissue, wrappings, and bows. What began as a Hallmark moment now more closely resembles a horror movie, where the children's prey is strewn about the room and panicked cries resound—Wait! You got what from who?! They have more marshmallows than I do! Do we have any AA batteries? Daddy, can you put this together?

Well, we tried. Again.

But on a little table in the corner of the room, I spy my gifts from my dear husband, arranged with care, matching wrap and all. One gift—a wooden wall sign—has been left unwrapped, and in the midst of the joyful Christmas din, I read its message: I Need a Silent Night. Boy, do I.

The gift's idea was actually inspired by a song of the same name from a Christmas album we had purchased the year before. Penned by Chris Eaton and Amy Grant, the carol's chorus laments:

I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night.

Later, in the (relative) quiet, Michael and I reflected upon why that phrase resonates with us so deeply at this stage in our lives, and at Christmastime, specifically. Why do we yearn for a silent night?

I'm Dreaming of a Night Christmas

Have you ever considered why we associate so deeply the Christmas season with nighttime? Of course, there were the shepherds, "out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear" (Luke 2:8–10). Out of the fields of darkness came God's glory—light, followed by the good news: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).

Then in Matthew's Gospel, we read about the Magi, who "saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him" (2:2). While Scripture does not tell us whether the star was visible both day and night, we can surely assume that it brightly shone in the darkness, prompting the Magi to walk in faith. "And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy . . . and they fell down and worshiped him" (Matt. 2:9–11). Led through many nights by a lesser light, the Magi found the Light, who would dispel every darkness.

Adding to the intrigue of a Christmas-y night, especially for us Midwesterners, twilight arrives painfully early as we plod on toward the winter solstice. How thankful I am that the darkness of winter's nativity is broken by the bright reminder our Savior's birth!

But Where's the Quiet?

Reading through the Gospel accounts of Christ's birth (and I'm certainly not the first person to discover this), it seems there is no reason to believe that a literal silence fell over Bethlehem that night. Whether Jesus was born in a cave, a stable, or otherwise, it was not likely a noiseless event. (Can I get an "Amen" from all of the moms out there?)

Despite the assurances of "Away in a Manger," there is no scriptural warrant for us to believe that our infant Savior never cried. In fact, He "in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). When baby Jesus was hungry, He probably cried—not due to sin, but as a glorious manifestation of His humanity!

Yet we sing of Bethlehem:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

And . . .

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.

I admire Bethlehem's sense of quiet, but will I ever find it—my modern-day silent night? Should I cast aside the Christmas rush in the hopes of a literal holiday hush?

Mary: Portrait of a Quiet Heart

My answer, perhaps, lies in Scripture after all. Maybe there really was a type of stillness in Bethlehem that night after all! Reading further into Luke's meticulous narrative, we come upon the scene after the "Glory to God!" announcement of the heavenly hosts:

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:15–19, emphasis added).

Dear, young, Mary, despite the extraordinary circumstances in which she found herself, having received visitors human and angelic, was not content to simply live in the moment and let it pass by. Looking a little closer, the word "treasure" here, refers to the idea of preserving—as in keeping something from being lost, or keeping something within one's self, so as not to be forgotten. The concept of "pondering" is to bring thoughts together in one's mind, a conferring with self of sorts. So the Holy Spirit made a point to tell us that Mary looked back on all these things that had happened—from an angel visit, to a wondrous conception, to a virgin birth—and she made a conscious effort to take it all in and to remember.

The Sound of Silence

I remember the last time that I heard actual silence. We used to live pretty far out in a forest of mixed hardwood and evergreen trees. We had neighbors, but it was quiet. Especially in winter, when billows of snowy insulation and a lack of foliage offered a rare opportunity to stand in the backyard, look up at the star-swathed sky, and hear absolutely nothing. Complete quiet. Oh, so beautiful; oh, so rare.

But today I find myself in the midst of another joyous, crazy, busy, noisy Christmas season. When my husband and I finally sit down on Christmas night, even if we manage to find a dimly-lit corner, we will not likely encounter any sort of real, physical silence. But we will have our silent night as we quiet our hearts before the Lord and remember the One who broke through the darkness.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:1–17).

All praise to Him who breaks the darkness! How will you quiet your heart before Him today?

About the Author

Laura Elliott

Laura Elliott

Born and raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Laura Elliott and her husband, Michael, now call Minnesota home. Laura is the mother of five sons and one daughter and serves as the marketing content manager for Revive Our Hearts. In … read more …

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