Every year, my school has a lovely Christmas service. It ends with the kids all singing Silent Night..first in English, then German, then ASL. It’s beautiful and you should all see it. But here’s the thing about the night Jesus was born…
- It wasn’t silent. Babies cry. It’s what they do—it’s not wrong for them to cry, they have to…they can’t talk. So “Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes…” sure, maybe when he’s eating and sleeping. I always had a problem with that line.
God had become a nonverbal human infant, bound by our limitations. His Mom and Dad listened and attended to His crying, like all Moms and Dads. He ate. He slept. He peed. He snuggled with his Mom. He had to be warmed by blankets—he had an umbilical cord that needed to be cut. A human being.
2. It wasn’t silent. People talked. About Him, and about His Mom. She humbly accepted the first sword that pierced her soul—her identity became that of an unwed Mom whose pregnancy caused those around her to come to conclusions. And did she insist that the record be set straight? I don’t know…I know Joseph got a visit from an angel, but what about her parents and siblings? What about her friends? What about the neighbors? People definitely talked. They were still talking about it when Jesus was an adult, making snide remarks like, “We know who OUR father is…”
They probably talked when He was being born too. And He, who was there before Abraham was born, was the subject of our incorrect opinions. Our gossip. Our questions. Our violence.
3. It wasn’t silent. Armies aren’t silent.
I’ve written before about the shepherds, and the fact that they might very well have been kids—little boys or girls, who all of a sudden were surrounded by “heavenly host”. A vast army, an ocean of soldiers, filling the sky—were they stamping heavy boots and rattling weapons? Singing a song about “glory to God in the highest”—I don’t know, it sounds loud. It sounds scary. I mean, it says they were “terribly frightened”…when I was a kid the translation was “sore afraid”.
I used to wonder why they were afraid. Weren’t they happy? Weren’t they filled with awe? But those things aren’t mutually exclusive. When the Allied tanks rolled into concentration camps, the prisoners probably had lots of feelings. And that’s what was happening on that night, when you think about it.
One of my kids asked me a few weeks ago, with a sad look on his face, “Why doesn’t God just DESTROY Satan?”
“Well, according to the Bible, He will,” I assured him. Then, because we’d just read the Luke passage about the shepherds and the angels, I said, “You know, maybe that’s why God sent an army to earth the night Jesus was born. To let everyone know that He was taking us back…that the invasion had begun. That Satan’s days were numbered.”
He thought for a second, then smiled.
I haven’t written a lot this Christmas—we’ve been frantically trying to finish the school year and get our travel plans in order, and we also just got Disney+. We tried to introduce Andrew to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but his patience wore thin.
If you haven’t seen the movie or at least read the book, get on it. This Christmas. It’s one of the greatest children’s books ever written, as well as one of the greatest theological works of the last century. I’ll leave you with this one image…
Narnia is wrapped in a joyless, sunless winter, crushed under the power of the White Witch. Then, Aslan appears. At first he’s only heard of—nobody sees him, but they know he’s on the move because the ice starts to melt. The winter begins to end. And then Father Christmas arrives.
He drives up in his sleigh and starts handing out gifts, but they aren’t toys—they’re weapons. A great battle will take place before the end of the book. The good guys and the forces of evil will clash over the fate of Narnia. But they don’t know that yet—all they know is that something good is coming. When Father Christmas drives away, he calls out, “Merry Christmas! Long live the true king!”
Every year I come to Christmas with fresh eyes. And maybe it’s because third grade at my school reads a lot about the Middle Ages, but this year all I see is an invasion.
The world is such a sad place. Really, it’s caught in the grip of death. The first death in my family occurred this year, and I realized at 32 what many children realize at seven or eight—that humans are subject to destruction, and there’s nothing we can do about it. And God sometimes seems to be silent.
But if you believe this story, and you really read it, with all its layers of significance and meaning, then you see what it is. Sure, there’s a sweet, lullaby element to the idea of Jesus’ birth. Babies are one of the best things we have, one of the greatest things in life (my sister-in-law had twins a few months ago, and I shall spend Christmas snuggling them as much as I can). But the story doesn’t end with the baby. In fact, it hasn’t ended at all. There was His birth, His death, His resurrection, and a lot of confusion and talking between ourselves. But it will end the way Handel’s Messiah ends—with triumphant Hallelujahs when Jesus returns. When we all go out to meet the returning Emperor and death and disease are wiped off the face of the universe.
It’s a paradox—the helpless baby who is the Omnipotent king. But real things are complicated, as C.S. Lewis said.
Merry Christmas. Long live the true king.