Jennifer Harris Dault is the associate pastor at St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and student to her toddler son. She; her husband, Allyn; their son, Simeon; and their two cats live in intentional community in South St. Louis.
Tonight I’ll be participating in one of my favorite holiday traditions—the Christmas Eve service. Like many of you, I will be going with my family to church, where we will close the service singing “Silent Night” while lighting candles to symbolize the light of the world that has been born into our midst! It is one of my favorite moments, seeing faces lighted by the glow of dancing flames, voices raised together in song.
“Silent Night” is often given a hard time for the unrealistic picture it paints of life with a newborn, and yet, I find myself contemplating how unremarkably quiet this birth seems. Jesus, God’s begotten, Messiah, Light of the World was born tucked out of the way because there was no room. I don’t suspect that anything about Bethlehem that night was actually silent: people teeming and bustling along as they search for accommodations or catching up with old family friends as they wait to be registered; animals bleating and braying.
But in the midst of all the noise and activity, the birth of a child didn’t cause much of a stir. Even with the rejoicing of the heavens only a handful of shepherds note the commotion and go to greet the tiny king.
Mary is left to treasure and ponder and wonder if she will ever sleep again — the birth of her miraculous child quickly turning to the practicalities of parenthood. I imagine in many ways the “quietness” of the birth was a gift — who really wants to be swarmed with people at a time like that?
I’d like to think that God breaking into the world would be noticeable, that it would be obvious. Surely God-loving people can’t miss God breaking into our midst, right? And yet here God enters with the glorious cry of a newborn baby, requiring bouncing and burping, feeding and cleaning — and maybe a midnight donkey ride or two.
Perhaps this unremarkable entrance can help prepare us to see the divine image in one another—to recognize the ways God uses others to speak to us, the way others are also beloved by their Creator. Perhaps as Jesus is born to us, our eyes will be open to the many ways that God continues to break into our world today, dancing in the wonderful work of the Spirit.
Tonight, as the flame from the Christ candle is passed from person to person during “Silent Night,” I will think of all the quiet ways that Christ’s light shines in those around me — faces from our sister congregation I have come to know and appreciate; colleagues who continually teach me how to love God, others, and even self better; a woman who maintains a sense of humor during challenging circumstances; the children who rush up to add animals and the baby Jesus to the nativity scene and remind me what it means to celebrate.
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