Friday, December 24, 2010

Midnight Silence

Midnights used to be quiet – well, that was before we thought of having midnight sales. Long before cable TVs that provided entertainment 24/7, long before casinos, bars, and other night spots, midnights used to be silent. People were supposed to be fast asleep, shops were supposed to be closed, networks have signed off – the midnight silence must have inspired people to sing: “It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth to touch their hearts of gold.” Indeed, it was in the middle of the night that the Son of God chose to be born in a stable. He preferred to be born in midnight still.

In fact, it was silence that made him choose to be born in a stable. I had the wonderful privilege of spending my priestly anniversary this year in Bethlehem. It was really a God-given gift that I found myself on that day in the cave where our Lord was born. An even greater gift still was the chance to offer Mass on that day in the Church of the Nativity itself. The stable where our Lord was born was a cave – yes, a cave. And it wasn’t strange at all for the people of those times lived in caves. The inn that was said to have refused St. Joseph and Our Lady was no Hilton or Peninsula. It was a cave. Travelers paid for a small space in that cave where they could rest for the night. The couple was not refused because the innkeeper was inhospitable. No, there were so many people in Bethlehem that night that every inch of space in the cave was already taken. The innkeeper, seeing the delicate condition of our Lady who was about to give birth, thought that a cave filled with people is not the proper place for a woman to give birth in. There was just no privacy. It was all too noisy and inconvenient. This is why he offered the holy couple a more suitable place – a place a lot quieter, a lot more private, a lot more respectable – and that would be the stable: the cave where his animals were kept. It was the silence of the stable that made our Lord choose it for his birth place.

Why did he want to be born in the stillness of midnight clear? Why did he choose to be born in a quiet stable. I think the choose of stillness and the preference for silence came from who he, the child was: He is the Eternal Word of the Father, the definitive self-revelation of God to us. Being the Word, He prefers the stillness of midnight and the silence of a cave. A word can only be appreciated when listened to. It cannot survive in the middle of noise and activity. When something serious needs to be considered, we do not choose to talk things out in a noisy entertainment bar or in a public market place. We choose a nice quiet place where the conversation can be carried out with people listening to the one speaking. Though he is the Son of the Eternal Father, Jesus did not arrive amidst the sound of blaring trumpets. He came amidst silence because what he wanted to reveal was important – it was a matter of life and death for us. Everything he came to reveal was necessary for our salvation. And so we have to listen, and listen well. Did not God the Father express this as his will when on the Mountain of the Transfiguration he said to the disciples: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” To listen to the Son, the believe what he says, and to obey what he commands – such should be our disposition as we stand in silence and wonder before this child who lays in a manger. Have you not noticed? The malls have closed early, vehicles in the highway are sparse – for once in many months, at last all is silent, all is still. Let us take advantage of the silence of this night to welcome Him in our lives. Let us listen to the word proclaimed to us. Let us receive the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Let us spend this night in prayer. Let this night be truly what we have just sung: Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin Mother and Child. Yes, Christmas may be for family reunion and godly cheer. But let us postpone it for tomorrow. As for tonight, let us stay before the manger and keep the holy Babe company. Let us stay with his Mother Mary and St. Joseph. Let us allow the angels sing about the blessedness of this night. Let them sing of the glory of God. Let them sing of peace to men of goodwill.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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