A Christmas Reflection: All Was not Calm, All Was not Bright
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!
What a beautiful reflection on the Silent Night song. I think Mary and Joseph experienced “gracious uncertainty.” It is a phrase I read a few months ago in a retirement book.
As I begin retirement this week, I have a plan but am trusting God in these times of change. I can sense the prayers of others around me.
Having retired six months ago, I can relate to your thoughts. Retirement is indeed the gift of time. I now have a deepening spirituality…….more time, less rushing? I am also giving more of my time to helping others. May the gift of time bless you. Also, a wonderful book you might consider…..”The Gift of Years,” by Sister Joan Chittister. Merry Christmas and Blessings in the new year.
In the midst of severe physical pain following a recent surgery, I had many “come to Jesus” moments, especially at night. I understood Job’s feeling of abandonment but miraculously, I did not give up the faith that there is a loving God. Only through God’s grace. Certainly, the nights are not all silent, as physical,, emotional, and spiritual pain speak loudest in the dark. There is no faith without “dark nights of the soul.” Isn’t this partly how we learn empathy and how to love others?
Lovely song. I had not heard this before. Thank you.
As I listened to your song this morning, tears fell rather freely. I have no real reason to be sad and am truly grateful for all my blessings. There just seems to be an emptiness somewhere inside. It won’t last long, I’m sure. I’ll put it in God’s loving hands and offer it for those who really are alone or in pain or suffering loss. I am so comforted by the words, “Love will find you.” Thank you, Sr. Melannie, for your beautiful reflection and hear-felt song.
What a beautiful reflection! The song is a game changer! I’m sending it to someone who needs to hear of God’s love for him! Merry Christmas , Sr Melannie! You have been a blessing to me this s year!
I actually experienced a “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve 1998. My husband had a stroke that morning and was in intensive care. However, as the music director in a small Episcopal Church, I was committed to an evening and a Midnight Mass. My youngest daughter, Sarah, had agreed to play her snare drum for both services so she and I walked through that night together. Everyone else was happy, singing carols and wishing us a Merry Christmas and yet we were walking in the fog of another world where no one else could enter in. Sarah and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, smiling outwardly and doing what we were supposed to do. It was surreal but the sun did come up the next morning, “Christ was born in Bethlem” and….my husband survived.
Thank you for putting words to something I have always marveled at … Imagine a young girl in YOUR family coming home and telling you (and her fiance) that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit! Not only Mary & Joseph, but their family & extended family had to walk by Faith! A great example.
Great reminders, Sr. Melannie. It is very tempting to expect all to be “calm & bright”, especially when the world around us gives that message in so many different ways. I’m glad to stand with Mary & Joseph, who rested on faith and lived in trust.
I am going to share the reflection and the words of the song with two teenage girls whom I mentor in a Juvenile Detention Facility. They need to hear of God’s love for them; of the Son, Love, coming to “take up residence in our neighborhood.”
Thank you for your touching words and beautiful song.( new to me).
What spoke to me strongly was the thought of our military, separated from their loved ones, especially during this season for family love and gatherings. Our prayers are with them.
May your heart be permeated with joy and peace this Advent and
Christmas blessings lasting throughout 2018. Love, Josita
Thank you once again.
Beautiful and oh so meaningful.
Dear Sister Melannie,
Thank you so much for your beautiful 2017 reflections. I look forward to every Monday morning and will continue to do that in 2018.
All my best wishes for a beautiful, peaceful, blessed Christmas season.
I’m hoping my boys who are going through challenging times will feel the hope this reflection/song seemed to communicate to me.
God Bless you Sr. Melannie and Merry Christmas.
Your message and song brought to mind two men who are facing heart surgery before Christmas, Fr. Phil Pritt and my cousin, Jim. Please pray for them.
I wish you a calm Christmas and New Year, even in the midst of your busy schedule.
What a great way to reflect on Silent night,all is calm all is bright…….Not so for Mary and Joseph…..and so we see better their quivering trust in God…non the less trust.
Beautiful song with words that offer comfort to those who are suffering in mind, body and spirit. Merry Christmas to all, and thank you Sr. Melanie.
Thank you, Sister Melanie, for this lovely reflection and song. Merry Christmas!
Three things, Sr. Melannie…..First, thank you, as usual, for you weekly toil of love. Your words are always a source of nourishment. Second, you are so spot on when you say just because you’re virtuous or a Christian you are immune to the “whips and scorns of outrageous fortune.” Third, there’s a lot of talk within the church about what constitutes a “regular union.” Well, if you ask me, Joseph’s union with Mary was pretty “irregular.” Yes, he wanted to follow the law, but he listened to a dream, an angel, or, as some would say, his conscience.
Thank you for your comforting words on Mondays. Merry Christmas and a Happy and Blessed New Year!
Just want to wish you a Merry and peaceful
Christmas sister. And to thank you for all your enlightening articles I find in so many places.