One of the oldest Christmas hymns in all of Christendom begins with the line: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence….”
More than 1,600 years ago when that line was written, the church was still coming out of the catacombs where it had hidden itself so as to survive countless persecutions. The faithful of that day were only beginning to grasp the impact which they, as a small, but fast-growing community of believers, was to have on the Roman world. It was a secular world where the Roman Empire was well into its final, and fatal, decline.
Modern day sensibilities often tell us that “silence” is not necessary. In fact, in a word of soundbites and viral video snippets, it might be counterproductive.
Rather, by today’s standards, we Christians should shout, celebrate, and (as the Scriptures say elsewhere) make plenty of joyful noise as we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and Savior. In this week of Christmas, which is it to be – silence or shouting?
Well, like so many aspects of lived faith, the answer is a classic “both/and” combination. Just like the stillness in your home in the early hours of Christmas morning, before anyone else excitedly gets out of bed, we must be silent first. We need to be disposed to humble listening and attentive watching.
We do this so that we might truly receive and comprehend that for which we should do no less than shout great tidings to the world. These are glad tidings of great joy which this world still so desperately needs.
This “both/and” of quiet openness leading to joyful expressions of faith and praise is an important and valid manner of making our way through this complex, busy world. We have been taught variations of it over and over since we were kids.
Do you remember being told as a kid what to do at railroad crossings? “Stop, look and listen” was the proverb then. Whether at crossings or in classrooms; at the family Christmas table, or in the pews on Christmas morning – stop, look and listen!
As your family celebrates the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord, I recommend you recall the words of the ancient hymn or the warning at railroad crossings – stop, look and listen. In humble quietness contemplate what the coming of the Lord means in your life and for your family.
If our personal and communal prayer is open to that consideration, there is no doubt in my mind that we would first fall into quiet thanksgiving, and then move to joyful praise.
The next verse in that ancient hymn with which I started proclaims: “… and with fear and trembling stand. Christ our God to earth descending …” Be assured that as we receive the Lord into our lives, as he is incarnate at Christmas and as he is present in the Eucharist, we may tremble with some fear and awe, but we will have received the greatest resource needed to transform all of creation – Christ alone.
May all of the peace and promise of the Lord’s birth be with you and your family in these most glorious days. May your quiet — and faith-filled — reception of the Lord do no less than make you into a joyfully shouting herald of hope!