Silent Night. Holy Night.

This homily was delivered to St. Julian’s Episcopal Church, Christmas Eve, 2019

Throughout the season of Advent there have been sacred stories followed by whimsical songs, and remembered lessons echoed by familiar carols that anticipated what was to occur on this most holy and silent of nights. Zechariah was silenced by the angel Gabriel, but soon found his voice again raised in melody announcing the birth of his son, John, who would later welcome the adult Jesus into the waters of his baptism. Gabriel then turned to Zechariah’s cousin-in-law, Mary, announcing that she was pregnant with the one prophet’s poeticized. She too responded to this news with music: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…Tonight’s Gospel (the Gospel of Christmas Eve) follows this pattern of musical response with the shepherds joyfully singing alongside the heavenly chorus, “Glory to God in the highest!” At once we celebrate the songs of angels while pondering the mystery of God within our hearts. We remember the dance of those shepherds while finding God’s treasures in the stillness of the night.

We are further reminded that even in our busy lives, God’s message of love is best heard when we are still; when our ruminating minds are silenced and our tepid hearts awakened. It is those moments when we make ourselves ready to hear songs of the divine. So busy was the government administering a census count that God’s music could not be heard. So busy and closed off was the innkeeper to welcoming the holy family one must wonder if he ever heard Mary’s song at all. We may even imagine Joseph being too nice to argue the point of vacancy with him. Instead, he acquiesced; and like animals made the inn’s stable their lodging for the evening. Meanwhile, the shepherds were entertaining a different set of notes. For them, it was a night like all others with the silence being the pregnant one. Then, all of a sudden new birth sounds out with cacophony. A terrifying startle begins the music of the night, and the shepherds are swept away by its melody sending them from the fields of their own flock to a cramped barn full of others. The band has gotten back together, and they didn’t even know it. New riffs are tried while stock music is remembered. Personalities and personas bleed onto the pages of pencil noted sheet music. There is no rest – until there is. The quarter rest arises as realization. Their music has been inspired by something. It had a muse. The muse was discovered as none other than the Divine – all powerful and all knowing – only more intimate. It is yes/no, both/and, alpha/omega. The muse is all powerful God, and poor helpless baby. It is silent night. It is a cacophony of holiness.

“If music be the food of love, play on.”[1] The food was there lying in a manger that night. Livestock consume mangers when they are full of hay. Tonight, Christians world-wide will consume the muse of love playing as bits of bread in the palms of their hands. It is no laughing matter; and yet, we are filled with joy for tonight we are reminded of hope. Tonight we reminisce on the faith of our great-great-grandparents somehow believing the story – (all of it; at least tonight) – is true. “God,” we may say in the morning, “help me with my un-belief.” “Make me remember the songs of angels. Teach me to be still and truly know you – not as all powerful and all knowing – but as a baby whom I can hold even as I believe you are holding me.”

“So this is Christmas, and what have we done.”[2] I’m sorry, Mr. Lennon, but for once this night is not about you/me/us. It’s about the muse and music of the night: The all-powerful. The all-knowing. The helpless, little Savior (of the world).

[1]                The opening line of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” said by the character, Duke Orsino.

[2]                The opening lines of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s song released in 1971, “So This is Christmas”.

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