The Second Verse of “Silent Night”
Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia”!
Christ, the Savior is born,
Christ, the Savior is born
Psalm 86:9-11 (CEB)
9 All the nations that you’ve made will come
and bow down before you, Lord;
they will glorify your name,
10 because you are awesome
and a wonder-worker.
You are God. Just you.
11 Teach me your way, Lord,
so that I can walk in your truth.
Make my heart focused
only on honoring your name.
Luke 2:8-20 (CEB)
8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.
“The glory of the Lord shone around them…” If you do a search for the word “glory” in the Bible, you get pages and pages of entries. The Old Testament is full of the word when it comes to God, and it continues into the Gospel descriptions of the presence of God. Throughout Scripture, “glory” often has to do with “shining,” with light. God is light and the light surrounds us. God’s presence, God’s deliverance, God’s strength is with us like the burning bush with Moses, that pillar of fire leading the Israelites around the desert, and now the star and accompanying theatrics of angels bringing their singing to the shining. They show us the appropriate response to this shining light… “Glory to God!” Praise is the only thing we can do in the face of such power and promise that we are not, ever, alone.
This Sunday is about joy. We are already getting ahead in our story. We haven’t even read about there being no place at the inn for Mary to give birth to Jesus yet. But, as we are going through the verses of “Silent Night,” it’s good to talk about the shepherds and the joyful announcements of the glory of the savior. Besides, how can you not connect joy with “Glories” and “Alleluias?” We are jumping right into the story, and we will save the manger scene for Christmas Eve. Lingering in the narrative and taking in the parts of the story of that night with slow intention is like rolling chocolate over your tongue for a while (speaking of joy!) instead of chewing and gulping. You were given a piece of chocolate or something sweet when you came in today. If you have been able to hold out, now is the time. While we are lingering with something sweet, let’s focus on those shepherds for a bit.
Apparently the shepherds didn’t immediately care for the drama of the moment. They were scared. Fear. There may have been plenty to fear for these folks. It’s likely that these were possibly not only the “lowly” in terms of job importance, but these may have been the lowliest of shepherds… the hired hands, not owners of the land or the sheep… the indentured slaves or lowest-wage earners working the night shift and literally “living in the fields.” Already it is dark when the predators prowl, but then something that felt absolutely apocalyptic was shaking the earth where they stood.
This summer I went camping out by Buckhorn. There were so many things that were beautiful and wonderful, but with the trees it got dark pretty early. Moonrise was not until about 9 pm. We’re secure in our tent, sleeping peacefully, and then just as the full moon came over the trees … we were awakened out of a dead sleep by the sound of howling. Our hearts were pounding, and then there was the response from the pack. They were fairly close, about 100 yards away. Not right next to the tent, but close enough to get our undivided attention. Even our dog wanted to get in the sleeping bag and stick close.
Fear can make us feel like we are on the edge. If we are jumpy already, anything that hints at all of difference or change can feel like a threat. We get hyper-aware and on the look-out for the bad stuff we hear about every day, on the news, on our phones, seemingly everywhere.
“When people are frightened, intelligent parts of the brain cease to dominate”, Dr. Bruce Perry explains, quoted from an article for Time magazine. When faced with a threat, the part of the brain responsible for risk assessment and actions cease to function. In other words, logical thinking is replaced by overwhelming emotions, thus favoring short-term solutions and sudden reactions. (https://www.learning-mind.com/impact-of-fear-on-the-human-brain/ accessed 11/26/2018) Think about that for a minute. When we are afraid, we can’t think straight.
I know when I get overwhelmed (and who doesn’t in this fast-paced, expectations-out of-control world, especially the ones that I put on myself), I start to enjoy (en-joy) life a lot less. I start thinking constantly about how to solve whatever problem seems to be right in front of me, and I stop seeing the good all around me, which is there.
Enter the angel’s message: “We’ve got Good News!” This is another term often used in scripture for God’s presence and strength. Hey, over here! Don’t forget you aren’t alone. That is one of people’s greatest fear (perhaps after public speaking), the fear of being alone. What the angels were about to tell these, so called, lowly shepherds was that God’s presence had just made a “landing.” “Your” savior (not just “a” savior). Everybody’s savior has arrived. This is Good News for everyone.
Stop and think about that for a minute. Linger on it like that chocolate and candy earlier. Take that deep breath. Bring out that feeling of calmness. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of expectations, breathe. Your savior is here. He’s all for you.
So, you have to ask yourself what does joy have to do with it? What Good News am I missing? What don’t I see all around me that is worthy of joy, because I’m distracted, I’m jumpy, with fear? This story is one of transformation from fear to joy, from panic to praise. The “glory” (remember, glory is often code for “light”) glory streams upon us. God’s goodness, presence and strength are all around us and in us. To use a cultural reference that has made a reappearance at the movies recently, “A Star is Born” every time we let ourselves embrace joy (even and especially in the midst of everything not being perfect yet) and let that star shine its light from within us to the world. Be a Star, and let your joy spill out, streaming all over the place.
Sometimes we get embarrassed by joyful expression. Especially the older we get or the more sophisticated we think we are. The more we get concerned about “appearances”. It is even possible that the sum total of our church experience has been a bit less than “glorious” even as we proclaim the “Good News.” We need people and a church that remembers to belly-laugh, gasp in delight, seek out beauty, and see the world through the lens of wonder. For we believe in a God who is “awesome and a wonder-worker.” Perhaps the “silence” we speak of this week is the need to silence the onslaught of exposure to messages of fear.
It’s okay to turn off the TV and stay off the internet for a while. TV, social media, and other websites can be the source of all kinds of fear. The thing is that we have to remember that they are tools. It can be challenging, but you can calibrate or curate these things to show you beauty and the glory of God if you try. I have an Instagram account, think Facebook, but exclusively for pictures. There’s a lot of nastiness out there, but I don’t follow that kind of stuff. My feed is full of birds, butterflies, and other things from nature from all over the world. When I’m stressed out or just plain tired, seeing these things can refresh my soul and bring me joy.
We have to open ourselves to see and experience the beauty that sustains our joy of life. In the beginning of the service, I asked you to think about what brings you joy. Your subconscious has had some time to processes this. Turn to someone near you, and tell them something that brings you joy. A few weeks ago, I asked what makes you laugh or smile. It can be the same thing, or it might be different. What brings you joy? Tell your neighbor to help encourage each other.
People often will refer to nature when they need to hit the reset button on the craziness of their lives. They may be out in it, or they may look at it through photos, paintings, or writing. I came across a poem that actually reminded me of a wintery song, not a Christmas song but a winter song called “Snowfall.”
Gently drifts down
‘Neath my window
‘Round my door step…
Just the words bring a level of calmness, and thinking of the brightness of street lights while it’s snowing. Everything glows. All is calm. All is bright.
Then, we can move from a place of attending to our own wounds to helping others. Marianne Williamson the author of Return to Love has another perspective on fear, and how we can turn it around.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
(from Return to Love by Marianne Williamson, Harper Collins, 1992)
We can move forward in joy, and share the joy and glory of God with the world around us. All is calm. All is bright. All is full of joy.