The night Jesus was born – what was it like? The scene has been re-imagined in every medium: song, dance, drama, music, print, film, painting, sculpting. One thing they all share – an ambience of silence. A silent night. Well sure. Silence provides an appropriate context for the reverential awe that should accompany the birth of God in the flesh.
Only it wasn’t like that – at least not for much of the night on which Jesus was born. There was a cacophony of distracting noise. Remember the inn that was so full it had no room for a woman about to deliver a child? People were jumbled together from near and far to register for the census. It would have been a noisy, boisterous bunch, and they were close by the stable where Mary was struggling to give birth.
From the animals – an occasional bleating or lowing since they were unaccustomed to human visitors in their midst.
Oh yes, and the angels, “a multitude of the armies of heaven,” thousands upon thousands of angelic soldiers proclaiming the good news that a Savior had been born! A good noise, this one, and certainly not distracting, because it focused attention on the Baby. Still, I bet it kept Him awake.
And don’t forget the shepherds – who knows how many – who show up at the stable shortly after Mary has delivered her firstborn son, full of strange news concerning all the ruckus and pushing aside the animals (and maybe Joseph) to see the baby, who was tucked away in a cattle trough.
Jesus was born into a noisy, jingle-jangle world. A world that needed redeeming. A world that longed for peace.
It’s part of the devil’s strategy to keep us busy, distracted by the ceaseless chatter of cell phones, tablets, TV, etc. C. S. Lewis captures the essence of the diabolical plan in a letter from a senior devil, Screwtape, to his protegé, Wormwood.
“Music and silence–how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell,…no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise–Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile–Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.” – C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter XXII (Collier Books, 1982), 102-103.
Lest we reduce our world, and ourselves to the sum of our virtual relationships, our digital dialogues, let’s create a noise-free zone tonight – and every morning/night – for quiet reflection on just who Jesus really is. He invites us to a quiet land where we can know Him as we are known, fully, joyfully. Why not start tonight? Why not make this a truly silent night?
For a refreshing look at a recasting of the great “silence” chapter from The Screwtape Letters, see: http://www.theareopagus.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/T-Kingdom-of-Noise-A-Screwtape-Letter.pdf
Also, take a look at Reclaiming Conversation: the Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle; and Into the Silent Land, by Martin Laird.