Posted by: pmarkrobb | December 16, 2012

silent night?

We know the songs … Silent Night, O Holy Night, Away in a Manger, and others like them … we’ve sung them so many times.  These beautiful songs seem to set the mood so well, and lead us to a place of true worship.  But in the intentional practice of Advent this Christmas season, I have collided into a compelling question that challenges some of these traditional Christmas carols.  Was it really a silent night?

There are only two books in the Bible that speak directly of that blessed evening in Bethlehem … the night of our dear Savior’s birth.  Matthew’s gospel and Luke’s gospel are the only two that tell the story of the nativity (birth) of Jesus.  Yes, there are other prophetic writings, but these two gospels are the only mention of the specific narrative of the story.  So what do these two books have to say about that night?

Matt 2:1
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea…

Luke 2:6-7
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Matthew provides no details at all, but chooses to jump right from a big list of lineage and the backstory of Mary and Joseph’s engagement, right to the wise men.  (As a side note, when you are reading Matthew 1 this coming Saturday, pause a second at verse 17.  We serve an intentional God!)  Luke gives us two whole verses, but hardly enough detail to pen multiple verses of sacred Christmas carols.

Where are the lowing cattle?  Wait … check that, were there even animals there at the actual time of his birth?  My nativity sets have sheep … OK, they must have come a little later with the shepherds.  But wait, does Luke’s narrative (chapter 2, verses 8-17) mention that the shepherds even brought their sheep with them?  One of my nativity sets has a camel … OK, it must have come with the three wise men.  Wait … did I say three wise men?  What was the chapter and verse reference for three, again?  And although no one would argue that the wise men would have had a camel with them, neither the wise men nor the camel belong in the stable scene with the shepherds. 

I will stop at this point and acknowledge that my purpose in all of this is not to blow apart the beauty and holiness of that night … quite the contrary.  What I have found over the past couple of years in the intentional practice of Advent, is that we add a lot of sentimentality to the nativity of Jesus.  And while that can certainly make for a deeper worship experience in the a capella harmony of Silent Night or O Holy Night, I think it distracts us from the most shocking and life-giving truth of that holy night.  Namely, that God chose to become fully human in the person of his Son and acquaint himself with every single thing that defines us and our experience of being fully human.

I don’t believe it was a silent night.  Make no mistake, it was holy … but I don’t believe it was silent.  I believe Mary labored, and experienced the pain every mother experiences in childbirth.  It’s quite possible there were cattle in the stable, and they may have woken the baby Jesus with their lowing … but I am not convinced that He didn’t cry.  I was in the delivery room for the birth of both my boys … they cried (so did my wife and I – I connect with Mary and Joseph in the experience of the birth of my boys).  God chose a redemption plan that had as its cornerstone, a fully human Savior.  Jesus, Immanuel, Prince of Peace, a baby boy not conceived like any other, but born exactly like every other. 

I do not reject the notion that the face of Jesus glowed as He laid in the manger.  I firmly believe that the nativity of Jesus was unlike any other before it, or since, and that absolutely means it could have been unlike anything that I have seen or experienced.  I do choose, however, to see a very human scene that night … the pain of childbirth, the sounds of a newborn baby, the joy of holding Him, and the very real fear of “now what?!”  This fully human experience expands the story for me.  It rings true with a God who chose for his Son to experience the full breadth of us and how we enter the world and navigate through it.  To me, an all-was-not-calm night shouts, “God with us!  Immanuel!”   That is anything but silent, but entirely Holy.

At Journey onWord, we pray for a blessed Christmas for each and every one of you who intersects with this space.  In the news and in our own lives there is obvious pain and suffering that doesn’t know what season it is.  But praise God that He chose to send us a Savior that experienced every bit of the joy and pain that we have, and will in our lifetime.  He knows, He cares … draw near to Him and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).  At Christmas we celebrate a birth.  If you have experienced the rebirth that comes in accepting this Jesus we speak of as your personal Savior, rejoice in that, and we rejoice along with you.  If you have never experienced this Jesus we speak of, and the fully human story of His birth, please reach out to us.  We would love to introduce you to the one person who will forever change your life … Jesus Christ.



  1. O…….Holy Night!! Emmanuel!! Thanks for directing us to Life…….not tradition and repetition. Life brings……Life! – to the traditions and repetitions. (He did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it!)

    Thanks journey onWord! May your Christmas be blessed as well!


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