Silent night, holy night;
All is calm, all is bright.
Anyone who’s ever experienced—or watched someone experience—labor & delivery knows that it’s no day at the beach. It’s not neat and tidy and it is most certainly not quiet. And after the grueling work of labor there is a baby: an infant who is (hopefully) screaming and wailing and loudly announcing their presence to the expectant world. I think all of us parents can agree that delivering a baby and caring for a newborn does not exactly evoke feelings of quiet or solitude. Let’s be honest. “Silent Night” is more like wishful thinking for new parents than descriptive.
“All is calm” is a really nice sentiment. But it’s probably one of the furthest things from Mary & Joseph’s actual reality that night. She was laboring and delivering a baby, presumably with only Joseph there to support and help, poor guy. And then they were caring for a newborn… in a STABLE. For crying out loud, could we get a description that’s a little more real? Try “night of the living PAIN” or “that night we had to stay in a BARN and oh yeah, you went into labor and pushed a baby out into the STRAW!” Or maybe, “night of the groaning woman and the mooing cattle and disturbed donkeys.” The point is, baby Jesus was not born into sweet peace and calm.
Think about the wider world around him: Jesus’ birth was at was at the very moment Caesar had called a census in order to levy heavy taxes on the people, further burdening their already bleak existence. The Roman Empire could be a harsh oppressor, and violently crushed any opposition. Some historians say the gladiator games were actually in their peak at this exact time, when men fought to the death for the entertainment of spectators. It wasn’t exactly Mayberry, people.
And remember Herod? The power-hungry, paranoid leader who ordered all boys age two and under to be SLAUGHTERED after Jesus’ birth because he was so terrified of losing his throne. Let’s not forget that before our Savior reached preschool age, he and his parents were refugees, on the run from violence and being hunted. I think sometimes because of our sanitized way of celebrating Christmas, we forget. It wasn’t into a world of cozy fireplaces, hot chocolate, carolers and smiles that our Savior was born. It was into a world of poverty, of violence, and of the stench of blood and cow manure, and so much weeping. He is our Prince of Peace, but sometimes I think we confuse who HE is with his environment and circumstances. They were anything but peaceful.
Our world is not so very different from the one our Messiah was born into all those centuries ago. We’re ravaged by violence and war, oppression still abounds, and it seems we are still in chaos. Our own nation has just been scarred by yet another mass shooting. More and more stories of police brutality are coming to light. People around the world are enduring bombings, brutal attacks, and terrorism. And we are watching literally hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing violence and destruction, many with children the very age of Jesus when we was on the run.
We need a Savior.
As we celebrate advent this year, let’s take comfort in who it is we're waiting for, but let’s not confuse our Messiah with the circumstances we find ourselves in, no matter what those are. We are waiting for the Prince of Peace, but that doesn't mean all will be “calm and bright”. We are waiting for PEACE himself, for that is who Jesus is.
And yes, someday, all will be calm and bright, and the “lion will lay down with the lamb” and “of his government and PEACE there will be no end.” And that is good news. But for now, our “tidings of great joy” is that our Prince of Peace is here, among us. And although the world is in chaos, we can find all our peace in HIM.
Come, Lord Jesus.
And when our souls are truly calm in him, when he is our source of peace, that's when we can offer peace to the weary world. When he becomes all to us, he uses us as ambassadors of peace to the hurting and violent-ridden around us. When we mistake other things for our source of peace—politicians, governments, militaries, self-protection strategies, financial security, good outcomes or favorable circumstances—then we become part of the anxiety and stress Jesus came to rescue us from. It’s so easy to get caught up in the world we see around us. But it’s only when we fix our perspective on the eternal, when our orientation is toward the one who is peace itself, that we can offer peace to others.
This advent, may we find our peace solely in Jesus, and may he who is peace pour through us to a world who desperately needs him.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.