Like most people, I’ve sung “Silent Night” many times, often on Christmas Eve in church. Yet the “silence” referred to in the iconic carol recently took on new meaning to me. The word “silence” appears many places in Scripture, but I found much more than just an absence of sound in several references.
In Revelation chapter 8, silence creates a uniquely powerful scene. John writes, “When he [the Lamb] opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about a half an hour” (Rev. 8:1 NIV). While John describes many things, creatures and beings in heaven prior to this, it is unfathomable that it all goes silent as described in this moment. In this silence is a depth of awe, reverence, reflection, and anticipation like nothing before, as the revelation of Jesus Christ is about to come to fulfillment.
The Praise of Silence
In Habakkuk, we see another reminder of the reverent place of silence. The Word says, “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Hab. 2:20 NIV). And in Zephaniah, we see “Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near” (Zeph. 1:7 NIV). There is praise in the silence of a God-fearing heart.
A Silent Night?
The popular carol declares that the night of Jesus’ birth was a “silent night,” a “holy night” with all “calm and bright.” But has any woman ever given birth in complete silence or calmness? (I find this thought unfathomable.) It’s hard to imagine that the animals weren’t making their natural sounds, especially among the unexpected commotion in the stable; or that Joseph wasn’t offering a word of encouragement, a prayer, or a declaration of praise as Mary was giving birth. Was the setting really like an inanimate, decorative tabletop nativity set that we’re used to seeing? It seems unlikely that the momentous night was literally silent. The lyrics of the song simply frame the event in poetic terms. But perhaps what is true is that there was a holy atmosphere of silent praise, as would be an act of worship pleasing to God. There was much more to this particular silent night, than a lack of sound.
My challenge, then, is for us not to sing “Silent Night” envisioning a perfectly still and orderly scene with everyone comfortable and content. Instead, let’s try to grasp what was surely the ultimate awe, reverence, reflection, and anticipation that humankind had ever experienced as God entered the world in human form. This Christmas, let us not be without praise even if we can somehow be without the usual noise and commotion. Within the silent night, let us declare a godly silence as the act of worship at the revelation of He who is worthy of it all.