Giving birth to my second son was an experience I won’t soon forget. That kid was in a hurry to make his debut, and because of that, I did not receive the epidural that I so desperately coveted in the midst of my contractions. I often tease that the amount of yelling and cursing that I did during that delivery would have been great material for promoting abstinence for teenagers. Furthermore, seconds after the baby was caught, or so it seemed, grandparents stormed the room to ooooh and aaah over the newest addition to our family.
Fast forward 11 years and 7 months.. it’s Christmas time. And as the parade of Christmas music fills the air EVERY WHERE you go, the song, Silent Night, catches my ear, as I reflect on my own birth story. I can’t help believe, that if Mary were to hear the lyrics of that song, she’d roll her eyes and burst into laughter.
Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, All is bright….
The song, Silent Night, was written by a young Catholic Priest, Joseph Mohr, in Austria in 1818. And while the melody and lyrics are beautiful and probably illicit an emotional response and fondness from this timeless song, it misrepresents what the circumstances were ACTUALLY like in the birth story of Jesus, and robs us of the significance and relevance we can take away into our own lives, if we considered Jesus’ birth in the context of the culture. (I just want to add, I love this song and have no intentions of deleting it from my play list- and Bing Crosby does it best!)
Significant? Yes. Silent? No. Calm? No. Mary and Joseph were traveling back from Nazareth to Bethlehem. If you take into account the cultural practices of that time and people group, they most certainly would not have been traveling alone, most likely accompanied by various family members traveling to the same destination. As they entered the “sleepy bedroom town” of Bethlehem, though our tradition may lean otherwise, it’s my belief they would not have had to search for a place to stay. Joseph was from Bethlehem; he had family there. Middle eastern cultures are VERY hospitable people. They sleep multiple families in homes, and there are several instances in the Bible where they take in total strangers and care for them. It’s who they are, and you can make a good argument that it’s a large part of why God chose Abraham to be the Father of many nations. In light of those facts, there was NO WAY Jospeh’s family would have let him and his pregnant wife search for a place to stay. HOWEVER, they had brought shame to the family by her being pregnant before their wedding procession, which prompted the couple to receive the bottom level, which were also where the animals were kept. But don’t think the shame would have kept cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents away from the bustling excitement as Mary goes into labor.
Can you imagine? Not only is Mary giving birth, AND the whole event is looked down on by her and Joseph’s family- but don’t worry- they are still close by, most likely discussing Mary’s life choices with her in earshot!
So what about this makes it so significant and how do we in our lives relate? The answer may be found in Mary’s response to the shepherds showing up. It says in Luke 2:17 about the shepherds: “When they has seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told to them [by the angel in Luke 2:6-15] about this child.” Think, literally two steps outside the door, as surely the family was gathered, and just as she may have overheard the gossip about her own shameful situation, she now heard her story and Jesus’ future being told. Her response:
"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:19
Silent Night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright.
Perhaps the song gets it right, but not as an external sentiment, but by what Mary had experienced in her heart. In the external, there was plenty of chaos, distraction and most likely dysfunction, but it was the posture of Mary’s heart that gave her peace. It was casting her eyes upon this little baby, and the promise that His life brought, that gave Mary calm… that made a dark night, bright.
Where do you find yourself this Christmas season? Are you in the middle of the havoc caused by littles clinging to you as you try to prepare for out of town guests, or have some moments of quiet to restore some of your sanity? Are you anxious about family getting together and the drama that often comes with it? Or are you in a place where the quietness of spending another Christmas alone, is deafening? Jesus came into a chaotic world, in the midst of messy, family drama. Mary and Jospeh were simultaneously surrounded by family, but I can’t help but imagine the loneliness they felt, where there should have been celebration. Because of this, I begin to believe that I too can choose a posture of peace above my shame. I can find calm in the center of unyielding family tensions, unmet expectations and circumstances beyond my control. If, Mary, who was in the thick of it, could stop and ponder and treasure the wonder of the birth of this tiny baby, letting the external fall into the background and allowing Him be at the forefront, then I can picture Jesus, in my Christmas story- imperfections and all- bringing peace. The beauty found in Jesus’ birth story is that in midst of flawed humans, brokenness and shame that we all experience, it was THERE that He came. And to THOSE people. It’s not a Hallmark movie. And BECAUSE OF THAT, I have hope.
This year, let’s internalize the song as perhaps Mary would:
Let the silent night be the pondering in your heart.
Cultivate calmness from treasuring His presence.
Allow the Holiness of Jesus to permeate all the hurt and hardened places.
Rest your expectations, and expectantly wait on the peace that only Jesus can bring.
Then sing: All is calm. All is bright.