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By Sigrid Fowler
Yes, we sing “Silent Night,” and doing so, we think of quiet, snowy landscapes, peaceful fields dotted with sheep, or children asleep as we complete those last minute preparations parents know well. But there’s another aspect of a picture we revisit only at Christmas, an audible reality all its own.
That first Christmas announcement wasn’t whispered. I imagine a resounding cry: “Born to you this day in city of David is a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” The news was accompanied with angel praise, and it couldn’t have been quiet. There are no reports of some shepherd telling his buddy, “I had a really odd dream.” No, they knew what they’d heard, they knew what they’d seen. The news was grandly articulated, filling the skies. They had to go and see for themselves. The shepherds may have found a quiet scene, but every parent knows from experience that a house with a baby can be noisy. Babies cry. And despite the appeal of the sweet carol, I doubt the line, “no crying he makes.” To leave heaven and take on the sorrows and constraints of human mortality would give God the Son plenty to cry about. That view is more persuasive, at least to me.
Like the angels, George Frederick Handel isn’t remembered for silence. His loved chorus brings audiences to their feet year after year: “Hallelujah, hallelujah, the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!” I remember one of these events, an occasion so stirring that as the last note faded away, the orchestra director said, “Let’s do it again!” No one sat down, one rushed to beat the traffic tangle soon to choke the streets as we emptied the hall. No, we stood enthralled–the Hallelujah Chorus, a second time! It was more celebration than performance.
And there’s nothing quiet about Christmas morning–not unless the children have all grown up, the house as still as an empty nest. Whatever the case, we love to revisit the hubbub though the shouts of delight, remembered or joltingly audible, wake us before sun-up.
Whether in memory, imagination, or in ringing actuality, the carols we sing, the cantatas of full-throated choirs, the resounding decibels of organs, pianos, bands, and orchestras rally our spirits once again. Telephones jangle, and we gladly receive loved voices from far away. Buzzers in the kitchen tell us that Christmas delight in the oven is done. Christmas parades add sounds very different from those of a barn with animals or a hillside full of sheep, restless since the night sky broke open above them. The seasonal commotion is familiar, whatever the source, and we love it. My mother once said, “I don’t mind happy noise.”
Christmas is like that, it’s noisy. And the audible overflow seems fitting. We listen, and honoring the Lord Jesus, we join the din ourselves in worshipful crowds or the words of one happy voice. Yet even now, may we do what we can to still the sounds of weeping, the outbursts of grief, loneliness, or anger, the noise of war.