Was Christmas night silent, or not? One carol sings about how this “holy night” was calm and bright, radiant beams of heavenly peace, “glories streaming from heaven afar,” while another captures the cries of a mother in labor, with a blood-stained barn floor, and Joseph’s worshipful prayers. “Silent Night” centers around baby Jesus’ divine glory, while “Labor of Love” highlights his humanity. The contrast of this Christmas night in these carols captures the most glorious encounter in human history. The tension of the divine and the human is beautifully captured in each song. It’s not that these songs are contradicting each other, it’s that they complement the story of God taking human flesh.
What mere mortal could have ever imagined the night when the immense Creator of this universe is born from a uterus? How should the voice that spoke life ex nihilo be found crying out as a baby? What would holiness look like dressed in flesh and bones, with blood flowing through his veins, wrapped in swaddling cloths?
The tension of Christmas speaks of God’s plan to bring his fully divine Son as a fully human Son of Man. Not one inch of his divine strand was erased when he took on his DNA. When Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men,” he did not subtract his divinity, but rather added his humanity (Philippians 2:7). At Christmas, the glory of God took the form of a human body, forever united in a “body of his glory” that belongs to Jesus alone (Philippians 3:21). How would you have prepared this fascinating intersection of Jesus’ manhood and Godhood at Christmas? How would you have written about Jesus being two in nature and yet only one Son of God?
I am convinced that it took both silence and speaking to reveal this unique, marvelous moment in history. In fact, while a long silence preceded the incarnation, the plan never stopped. Jesus being born from a virgin to live and die for humanity’s sin has been set “before the ages for our glory” by the mysterious, hidden wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 2:7). Not every step of God’s plan was revealed to humanity, and not every hidden, silent detail precluded his plan either. Spoken or not, hidden or revealed, understood or not, God’s marvelous, “foreordained plan before the foundation of the world” was being fulfilled through the womb of a virgin and the labor pains of this faithful mother (1 Peter 1:18-20).
The story of Christmas is a story of a new spiritual Genesis for a world in dire need of redemption. To understand the grandiosity of this divine moment, God pulled a 400-year-long curtain of silence on a people who chose spiritual darkness. He planned his last word carefully. In Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, God utters his last expressions of anger and disappointment: “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you, and I will accept no offering from your hands” (1:10). The sin of the people corrupted and marred God’s name and holy status in this world again and again. The temple doors are shutting down on a world that chose darkness and the curtains of silence fall over it. But God doesn’t stop working. In fact, the darkness the Old Testament ends with is reminiscent of the Genesis 1 chaos. The similarities are canny. While the chaos in Genesis 1 spoke to an unformed, unsuited state of the earth for human habitation, this spiritual darkness speaks of hearts needing spiritual transformation and the Spirit’s indwelling.
While the world was waiting for a child to be born, a son to be given, and the government to be carried on his shoulders, God was planning for His Word to come through the cosmos, this time in human form, to break the hearts’ un-formedness and make them “suitable” for Life Eternal (Isaiah 9:6). More beautiful than God wording each piece of the Cosmos is his consonants and vowels fleshed with blood and skin, birthed from a young virgin, emptied yet full, lowly yet high, God yet servant, nothing yet everything.
For some, Christmas is a renowned night when peace entered the world. For others, it is a holy commotion of labor and birth. Whether the night is silent or noisy, the birth of Jesus calls for a worshipful adoration of hearts turned to God. For in the birth of his Son, God broke the thick revelatory silence in human history. His perfect Sound enters not only the universe but every human heart willing to receive him. The silent night is not silent anymore.