At Christmas time, we sing the beautiful hymn, “Silent Night.” In it we say, “All is calm, all is bright.” But if we read the story of the first Christmas, we will see that all was not calm, all was not bright.
All was not calm. When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, what is her reaction? Luke says, “She was greatly troubled at what was said.” Greatly troubled. That doesn’t sound like calm to me. Mary must have been afraid too and showed it. Why else would Gabriel have said to her, “Do not be afraid”? Being afraid is not the same as being calm.
Then there’s Joseph. When he realizes that Mary is pregnant, he is not calm either. He tosses and turns in bed at night because he knows the child is not his. He’s in turmoil and distress trying to decide what to do: have Mary stoned or divorce her quietly? He decides on the latter until an angel appears and directs him to take Mary as his wife and raise the child as his own.
Then comes another major disturbance in their lives: Caesar’s edict. They must journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and be counted for the Roman census. That’s a journey of 97 miles on today’s highways! But what did the trip entail back then? And then, when they finally get there, they learn there’s no room for them in the inn. So they are forced to seek shelter in a cave or stable. Mary gives birth not in a sanatized environment, but among farm animals. The calm is disrupted again when Joseph’s “dream angel” returns and warns him to pack up his family and hightail it to Egypt, a foreign country.
All was not bright. The Christmas story reminds us that sometimes all is not bright. Instead we walk in darkness, in fog, in confusion. Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation was a yes of faith—not certainty. Gabriel did not give her a manual on how to raise a Messiah. She knew little, if anything, of what lay ahead for her. As we have seen, Joseph too walked not in clarity but by faith. Mary and Joseph did not have a crystal ball in which they could see the future. Rather, they had “only” their faith, trusting that God would be with them no matter what the future held for them.
The lessons of the Christmas story are many. I have outlined two lessons here. First, we must not expect our lives to be calm simply because we are trying to be good people. Nor can we expect to walk in brightness and clarity simply because we are Christian. Sometimes God’s presence in our lives is accompanied by deep disturbances or periods of intense darkness. When this happens, may we follow the example of Mary and Joseph, entrusting our lives in faith to Emmanuel, God-with-us.
The song today is a beautiful one entitled “Somewhere in Your Silent Night” by Casting Crowns. As we listen to the song may we hold in our hearts those who are mourning the loss of a loved one this Christmas, those separated from family and friends, those in pain or distress of any kind, or those in dire need.
When have you experienced a lack of calm and clarity in your life? Did you have a sense of God’s presence during that time?
I invite you to share a response to the reflection and/or song below.
PS: A few readers have told me they are not receiving my blog even after they subscribe. Two suggestions. First, check your junk mail. Then after you subscribe, you should receive a verification notice. You have to verify that you have subscribed to my blog before you will start receiving it automatically. And finally, my “tech people” say that, from now on, my blog should arrive in the wee hours of Monday morning.
Next Monday, Christmas day, there will be a posting: a song only—which will be my Christmas card to all of you!