This song has always baffled me. I have always felt the writer of this song clearly lacked two pivotal experiential points of reference prior to writing this candle lit hymn: being in a barn full of animals and attending a birth. In my experience, I haven’t come close to using “silent” as a. This song must then simple be fictional idealization of a birth to further portray Jesus’ life as “sunshine & roses” even from the moment he entered this world. There had to be chaos, noise, stink, panic, worry, and poop. Lots of poop! Honestly people, there were barn animals and a newborn, poop would haven a central decor piece. To believe it was actually a “silent night” is either outright naive or a staunch defense of adding poop to the nativity scene on your mantel.
What if, though, this isn’t a historical retelling of Jesus’ birth? What if this is lullaby? What if? We know Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, didn’t write this song, but if we listen closely, it sure does sound like the words of a proud papa. Let’s look at a few phrases from this divine love song.
“Round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.” The moment Joseph would have seen Mary getting her first chance at sleep with his son in her arms, yes…there must have been a deep sense of heavenly peace!
“Shepherds quake at the sight…” Joseph would remember that raggedy gang of misfits and outcasts approach the stable, full of mixed emotion…mostly fear! He remembers what they had told him about their encounter with more angels than any human had seen prior and now were in the presence of Israel’s Messiah and a baby to boot! That’s enough to rattle even the bravest and most callous night dwellers.
“Silent night, all is calm, all is bright…” In a literal sense, was the night of Jesus’ birth silent, calm, and bright, surely not. I imagine though, Joseph, in his core, needed to believe that in the midst of so much unmet expectation, there was something beautiful taking place. There are times when we must harken our deepest trust in God’s plan, look into the heart of chaos, and with a brave holy imagination, use words to create room for a present reality that seemingly doesn’t fit in the moment we find ourselves. There was a season where on of my daughters would awake in the middle of the night crying almost every night for a couple months. I did not whisper in her ear, “This is terrifying, dark, and hopeless. I am fearful with you and am uncertain there will be resolution.” Rather I take a deep breath and began dreaming a new dream aloud, “Sweet girl, all is good. Jesus is here and stronger than your fear. There is great light in this room and angels abound. Shhh, all is well. I love you and there is not place I would rather be than here, with you.” I needed these words as much or more than my sweet girl did, I needed to see a brighter, holier, and more silent night than the one I was experiencing.
“Jesus, Lord at they birth…Christ, the Savior is born” Joseph, the step-father of a boy whose identity would be question for the entirety of his life, refrains who he knows his son to be. There is power in a father speaking specific words of identity over his children.
To all the fathers who may be reading this, Christmas is a crazy season full of insane expectations to live up to and manage. Bank accounts, family members, vacations, traditions, Christmas lists, Christmas parties, and end of the year charity write-offs bring us to a place where we are strangely akin to the feeling of raising a family in a chaotic barn. Fathers, let’s take moments to sing songs, tell stories, and imagine adventure with our children and wives that create space for the realities of God. In this season, may we speak words that strengthen our children’s identity and have our attitudes and actions be marked by gentleness. I’m grateful for this song and reminder this Christmas season.