No Silent Night
As a mother of four children I well remember many nights that were anything but silent. The cries of a newborn suddenly awakened by pangs of hunger. The moans of a sick child who needed another dose of acetaminophen. More recently, the voices of teenagers telling me about their day when they arrive home late at night. During these nights I needed something else to break through the silence, and sometimes my fear, than the sounds of my children. I needed the good news of the gospel. This same good news broke the silence of another mother’s night about two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, bringing great joy to all people.
Shortly after John the Baptist’s birth, Caesar Augustus pronounced a decree “that all the world should be registered” for the purpose of taxation (Luke 2:1). It was under Augustus’s rule that the phrase, Pax Romana, was coined, but sadly, for all the peace that Augustus seemed to bring to the Roman Empire, he led the people away from true peace. He wanted others to see how great he was, not how great God is.
Although Augustus believed he was ordering a decree that would elevate his status, God was using him to reveal the true King. Remarkably, this was the first time that the Roman Empire had been at peace under one ruler. God had orchestrated a time of peace to bring the King of peace into the world.
God had foretold Jesus’s birth would be in Bethlehem through the prophet Micah (Mic. 5:2). Through Augustus’s decree, He was putting the right people in the right place at the right time to fulfill His Word. Significantly, Joseph, of the house and lineage of David, left Nazareth for Bethlehem, the city of David (2 Sam. 7:12-13). While there the time came for Mary to give birth. Since the usual lodging place for travelers was full, Mary and Joseph had to stay in a stable.
There has never been a greater and more humble birth than Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. We sing about it as a silent night, but it was anything but silent. Think of Mary’s cries of pain as she gave birth for the first time, and yet cries of joy as she saw her son, the Savior of the world. Think of Jesus’s cries, as he was “born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). His cries would reach their climax on the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46). Jesus died and was raised again so that you and I can be saved from sin, death, and Satan. Dear reader, have you cried out to Him, trusting in Him alone for your salvation?
There was another reason the night of Christ’s birth was not silent. God chose to announce His Son’s birth to shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock. The hillside became holy ground as the glory of the Lord shone around them. Filled with fear, the angel of the Lord quickly told them not to be afraid. “Good news of great joy that will be for all the people” had come (Luke 2:10). “The great shepherd of the sheep” had come to make complete and final atonement for God’s people (Heb. 13:20). The Savior, Christ the Lord, had been born. The greatest prophet, priest and king had arrived!
To confirm His word through the angels, God gave the shepherds a sign. They would find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Before they could ponder this, their quiet night on the hillside was interrupted again by a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14). This was a moment they would never forget and a message they could not hide.
The shepherds hurried and found Mary and Joseph, and baby Jesus lying in a manger (Luke 2:16). They told the new parents what the angels had revealed to them about their son. How comforting this must have been to Mary and Joseph. God had not forgotten His word to them, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). These humble beginnings were leading to something greater than anyone could have imagined. God had come in the likeness of man to bring peace between God and man. Glory to God indeed!
Perhaps right now your nights are anything but silent. Sleep is hard to come by as you care for children, or lay awake thinking about a strained relationship, marital discord, a child’s rebellious heart, or endure physical pain. Maybe you are frightened that you won’t be able to endure another day of it, much less a month, or a year. Be encouraged, dear believer, the Lord is with you. And because of His life, death, resurrection and ascension, we have better days ahead. The good news of great joy will echo throughout all eternity as we worship the Son of Man, who is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, and is coming again to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him. On that day the last trumpet will break any silence and we will finally behold our beloved Savior face to face.
Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit www.sarahivill.com.