JIM CREES: A season of silence
Well, here we are. Full in the Christmas holiday season.
What a wonderful holiday to celebrate. What a wonderful story to tell.
There are a couple of very, VERY important messages tucked firmly away in the “old, old story” we enjoy and celebrate at Christmas time.
And I love that old, old story.
Time and time again, we read the story of Christmas - of the birth of Jesus.
The Gospels each in their own way talk about the birth of Jesus and expound on the wonders of that earth-changing event.
It’s a great story with a lot of great lessons. One of the important lessons in the story of Jesus’ nativity, the Christmas story, is how important it is to be quiet -
the joy of silence.
Thomas Merton, one of my literary and philisophical heroes wrote:
“It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them ... Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.”
What does the Christmas story teach us about being quiet?
The REAL heroes and heroines in the Christmas story were people who kept their calm and who moved through their world - and ours - in calm, in peace, with a sense of tranquility all in the face of tremendous uproar.
Consider Joseph - the worldly father of Jesus.
A key figure in the Nativity story, what does Joseph himself say to us in the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth?
He says nothing. Not one word.
Joseph is never quoted - and not because of some oversight by the writers of the Gospels.
I think he had nothing to say because he was ‘the strong silent type.’
Luke 1:26 tells us:
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”
Now Joseph was facing a real problem.
He was a good man. Strong in his faith.
And … by every worldly indication, his fiancée had cheated on him.
She had embarrassed him, and everybody in the extended neighborhood probably knew about it.
So Joseph decided to break off the engagement - gently. (Keep in mind … he could have had her stoned for her ‘sin.’)
But, while facing this test of his faith; while facing the sniggering jokes of his buddies at work, (he was a construction worker); while facing the eyeballing of family and friends, he had a dream. An angel appeared to him and said basically: “OK Joseph here’s the the story. What has happened is God’s will and this is what we need you to do …”
What does Joseph do?
How does he respond?
He does what he has to do.
He takes care of business - in silence.
The silence of discipline. The silence of integrity. The silence of faith.
The same thing happens when he’s called on to leave his homeland and escape to Egypt.
He doesn’t whine. He doesn’t say, “Hey! When am I gonna catch a break here?” He doesn’t sniffle and pout.
He basically packs his bags and heads south.
The silence of strength. The silence of virtue. The silence of rectitude - that inner fortitude so lacking in our modern world.
Joseph does what he’s told in faith and full in the belief that this is the right thing.
And then there was Mary …
She must have put up with so much.
Why wasn’t there any room in Bethlehem?
Could it be society - and family - just didn’t think Mary and Joseph were living an “appropriate” life style according to the social dictates of the time?
Still, she passes through this story in peace and calm and humility.
And what a story.
If you really look at the Nativity story carefully, and if you read it realistically leaving out the “Silent Night” traditions, and the “Oh Little Town of Bethemlem” stuff this is a incredibly noisy story.
There is noise and blare surrounding Mary every waking hour.
First, imagine the castigation of her family … and his … and the neighbors …
The just as she goes into labor, in a barn, there are angels swirling about praising God and scaring the wits out of a group of shepherds.
This girl barely gives birth and manages to get her baby settled down when these same shepherds come strolling through the barn.
It’s incredible. It’s frantic.
Read the story for yourselves. It’s noisy.
Wise men walking in like they own the place.
With all of this going on … we read in Luke 2:18:
“… Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Silence. She kept everything in a meditative calm.
Do we? Can we at this season?
We need to remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
It was Mary and Joseph’s answer to the riot breaking about them.
Do we remember that this is inherently a Season of Silence?
Because that is the Spirit of Christmas - a spirit of calm, a spirit of stillness, a spirit of peacefulness.
That is what this season is all about.
Mary knew it. She and Joseph maintained and carried on in quiet and silence.
What a powerful vision of strong and powerful personalities. Strong in silence and powerful in their faith.
I really believe that is the important lesson told in the Christmas story but lost in the glitz and glitter of the rest of the goings on.
I’d hope we all can take the Nativity story and pull out the message and learn to truly enjoy a season of silence at this Christmas time.