Not So Silent Night
Let me start by saying that giving birth is a mysterious miracle, and I know not everyone has had the privilege to be present at an actual birth of a baby. My heart aches for those who have longed for a child and been thwarted by infertility, miscarriage, or the death of an infant. I can only imagine how incredibly painful this must be. If that pain is too much to bear, I would encourage you to read on with caution, or to set this aside for now.
Recently, a friend of mine stirred a fun and light-hearted debate when he posted a question on Facebook. “Let’s try this,” he said. “What is your most controversial holiday belief or position?”
The responses came quickly and in varying degrees of seriousness, humor, and heart-felt sentiments.
“Eggnog is delicious!”
“I hate Elf on the Shelf!”
“If you don’t make iced cut-out cookies you ain’t doing Christmas.”
Others spoke about issues like whether or not Christian parents should perpetuate timeless myths that come to forefront around Christmas or which popular Christmas songs are ripe with ethnocentricity and misogyny.
I hesitated for just a moment prior to posting my own controversial holiday belief. One I’ve held inside for the last several years, only daring to mention in the safest of company.
“The song, ‘Silent Night,’ is dehumanizing and starts out with a big fat lie,” I added to the mix.
“Silent” night… Right.
I have never heard of a birth story that involves anything resembling silence. The task of bringing new life into the world, while miraculous and incredible, is no walk in the park. It is painful, it is messy, it is incredibly stressful, and it is often anxiety producing.
Sometimes, while walking the floors of the hospital, I find myself on the labor and delivery floor. Through tightly shut doors I hear inklings of the cacophony of noise that must be happening inside. Mothers-to-be cry out in pain as hours of labor progress with no end in sight. After what feels like ages, they exclaim that they just can’t do it anymore, and with whimpers and shouts and tears of anguish they push – against the overwhelming desire to just give up.
Amid all that noise can be heard the persistent, steadfast, encouraging statement from midwives, nurses, doulas, and doctors. “Yes, you can do this. Your body was made to do this. Just a little while longer. Don’t give up now.”
And partners. Who stand resolutely by as progress is slowly made, centimeter by arduous centimeter. “I believe in you. You’ve got this.”
At long last, when particularly fierce screams of pain are heard and babies arrive, the noise is only escalated with cries of disorientation, hunger, fear, and exhaustion. And exclamations of joy reverberate against the walls, sometimes accompanied by sobs of relief.
Anything, but silent.
Personally, I’ve only been physically present for three births. So I can’t say for sure how other birth stories go. But I have watched nearly every episode of Call the Midwife, so I feel pretty confident when I say that there is nothing silent about giving birth. Even if the one who is being birthed happens to be the Savior of the world.
We sing “Silent Night,” and I would imagine most of us picture a serene and peaceful landscape. Jesus, asleep on the hay; Mary and Joseph standing awe-fully by – heads bowed in humble adoration; cows and sheep kneeling by the manger, not daring to make a sound.
This image of perfect quiet is not true to the human experience. It is not real. It is dehumanizing. And it is not fully honoring the incarnation. Jesus did not come as some alien baby who never cried. Mary did not have a super-human ability to give birth to a child without making a peep.
No, Jesus was a real human being who cried and searched for the breast and found his way in the world, step by wobbly step. Mary was an actual woman, who felt extreme pain and anguish and ineptitude and unadulterated joy when it was finally finished. Joseph was a supportive partner, likely all-to-aware of the appearance of things and full of self-doubt on this new journey.
See, this is the REAL beauty of that first night. The night that forever changed history matters most, because God cared enough about humanity to become actual humanity for us. With us. Among us. The incarnation matters because the God who created the universe put on flesh and entered into the mess of humanity. Not because it was perfect and pristine. But because it was dirty and real and sensory and full of flesh and in desperate need of a new Revelation.
This Christmas Eve, after weeks of waiting and anticipating the arrival of our Savior, we celebrate the birth of this God-child because this is the very meaning of God With Us. We celebrate because no part of our humanity was untouched.
We celebrate on this not-so-silent night, because God loved us enough to become one of us. Fully God and fully – noisy – human.
Merry Christmas, friends. May the God who became human remind you anew of the incarnation miracle and help you to embrace the beauty of both the humanity of Jesus, and your own miraculous humanity today.