Merry Christmas! While I am writing these words, stockings are being hung by our chimneys with care, and children are doing everything possible to move from the “naughty” list to the “nice” list. As always, though, there is a deep, abiding reason for this season that goes beyond gift-giving and family get-togethers. Christ, the Savior, is born!
Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright ’round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace!
The world’s favorite Christmas carol is, in essence, a lullaby. If you have raised children of your own, you probably came up with one trick or another to help them fall asleep on difficult nights. This song is no different: in its first verse, we sing to the Christ child our wish that he, as a newborn baby, find peaceful, heavenly rest. Perhaps we are a little late in our request?! After all, the days of Jesus as a baby are far behind us. However, buried in this request is, I believe, a request for our own time: if Jesus can find rest from all his worldly troubles as a baby, maybe he can grant us peace in the midst of our own situations, too.
Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar; heavenly hosts sing alleluia.
Christ the Savior is born!
This verse is often misunderstood by people who sing it today. Some sing “glorious streams,” but here we sing about glories that are streaming from far-off heaven. What are these “glories”? Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God; what a glorious reality, to see God in human flesh! The God of all creation has humbled himself by taking on human flesh; what a glorious reversal of the world’s expectations! The true light that gives light to every person has come into the world; what a glorious revelation of God’s plan for salvation and hope! Glories do indeed stream from heaven afar. We should join the heavenly voices singing alleluia!
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light radiant beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
The third verse of this carol is probably misunderstood more often than the second verse. The beams are not glow-in-the-dark beams, and we are not calling Jesus “Son of God AND love’s pure light.” We are naming him as Son of God (which is right and true), and we are proclaiming the truth that love’s pure light radiant(ly) beams from his holy face. Again, if you have raised a child, you might remember moments when the child’s face seemed to beam with happiness, peace, and complete trust. We might imagine the same expression on Jesus’s newborn face, except here the impact is stronger, because this is no mere child. He is the Son of God, and the purest light of God’s love shines beautifully from him onto us. Even more importantly, this image of shining light is just the beginning of the new day: it is the dawn of redeeming grace.
“Silent Night” understands the full picture of God’s plan for Jesus Christ. Yes, he comes as a beautiful child, and we celebrate that birth in this season. But he comes for a purpose: to bring about redeeming grace for you and for me. The season of Christmas is just the dawn of that picture of redemption. For the rest of the story, we have to stick around for the season of Good Friday and Easter.
But from the very beginning, the world knew that this child was something special. Rejoice in the birth our king, the Son of God! Merry Christmas!