Making Our Silent Nights Holy


At eight-thirty tonight, the only sound in the house was a single voice singing “Silent Night” at a child’s bedside.

These past three days have been filled with fervent housecleaning, sparked by a case of strep and perfectly timed for Christmas. I’m looking forward to laying down the vinegar-soaked sponge and taking up my oven mitts to bake cookies and dry orange slices into miniature rose-windows. But whatever comes of this week, each day will end the same way, I think: at Lucy’s request, her nightly lullaby has shifted from the obscure stanzas of “Be Thou My Vision” to the first two verses of “Silent Night.”

It hasn’t escaped me that this Advent is already markedly different from the past five. Three years ago I put up a calendar of numbered burlap pouches, each with an activity and a Jesse Tree ornament for the day. Lucy and I cut out snowflakes, strung cereal on kitchen twine, and made spiced gingerbread while Y was at work, reveling in the joy of activity. In the evenings we listened to carols and drove out looking for Christmas lights, never finding a display that could rival the bright wonder in our toddler’s eyes.

Such years will come again, in the cyclical pattern of lives that celebrate both in the way of crowded potluck feasts and of hushed candlelight services; I am sure of it.

But this year I haven’t sought out a great plan of merriment. We did joyfully put up a fresh Fraser fir, and all turned to watch the littlest’s awed face when the stringed lights twinkled on for the first time. Last weekend, the four of us colored pictures depicting the newly created Earth and the serpent on the tree as Y read aloud from the Advent storybook. Our Advent season in 2015 may well be made up of small, unscheduled observances like these, and at the end of this year, I think it might be just what we need.

It has been a year of many silent nights.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

– Isaiah 2:2, ESV

These have always been my favorite words to describe Christmas, and they seem to ring a clearer note now, when the darkness of the preceding months has seemed very deep indeed — all throughout the world. Our part of the country is still bowed under the cold pall of senseless death. Many chairs stand empty where they were once filled at Thanksgiving. Just as this past weekend began, I learned that a loved one has been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer.

So I write this alive to the silence of an unlit night, friends.

And I’d like to invite you in — not, at least this time, to windows blazing with festal cheer in bauble-decked halls, but to a chair drawn up in a dim living room beside our Christmas tree, in the quiet glow of its tiny lights.

Advent is here, and it was meant for such a time as ours.

Here, with my chin tucked between curled knees, the bald fact of the Christ-child’s coming suddenly over-shines all the celebrations that have rightfully followed the event.

Sometimes I forget, amid all the beautiful live and ornamental and foil-pressed nativity scenes, that Mary did deliver her baby, at the apex of real and crescendoing contractions. She swaddled him snugly to the best of a brand-new mother’s ability, and placed him in an all-too-real manger.

Isaiah’s grand and beautiful prophecy unfurled in the reddened and puckered face of a newborn, just like the ones that you and I have seen.

Whatever the failings of my imagination, he was real: real to the touch, with curled fists and soft cheeks, and in flesh so new it would have needed scrubbing to be properly revealed. His infant form would have been a familiar sight to you and I, except that in him was a light that we could not have conceived, either by our powers of comprehension or creation.

He was real. As real as the darkness of which we are so acutely aware.

And it’s the reality of His being that is the basis for our comfort and joy.

Come and remember that, dear friends? Come read the old, true story. I don’t want to say too much and paint yet another depiction; I just wanted to join you in dwelling on Christ as a real baby — the baby whose cry sent fissures crackling through the close darkness of that long silent night.

His birth: our dawn.

Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon, 
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June, 
Christmas hath a beauty 
Lovelier than the world can show: 
For Christmas bringeth Jesus, 
Brought for us so low. 

– Christina Rossetti, “Christmas Eve.”