Silent Night has always been one of my favorite carols this time of year. Ever since I committed it to memory over 20 years ago, the words have made me think about peace and calm surrounding the birth of Jesus. Consider the lyrics:
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.
Upon further reflection, however, you have to wonder where the song’s author derived his theology. Merely looking at the narratives surrounding Christ’s birth, there is nothing calm or silent about them. In fact, the text reveals that the world was in absolute chaos.
We must remember that on the night that Jesus was born, Herod sent magi from the east to track Jesus down so that he could kill him. Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, received word of this and was given instructions to flee to Egypt for safety. And so instead of spending his first night in this world snuggling closely next to his mother, he literally was on the run for his life.
When Herod failed to find Him, he issued an edict to profile and kill all of the baby boys younger than two years old. Mothers and fathers across the empire grieved over the senseless loss of their sons, sisters and brothers couldn’t wrap their minds around why their baby brothers were being killed. Herod ordered this systematic genocide because he understood the disruptive force that the Messiah would be to his reign of terror and oppression. He committed to stop it at all costs.
So you see, this is not a calm, tranquil scenario. Jesus, even in his infancy, challenged the systems of this world that profited by exploiting others. He has never been the meek and mild, powerless, non-threatening Savior that we sing about at Christmas time. Rather, he is dangerous, absolutely dangerous to the empires of this world.
Throughout Christendom, at least since Constantine, those in positions of power and authority in the Church have gone through great lengths to domesticate Jesus. From the songs that we sing, to the theology we construct, Jesus is often portrayed as the individual who doesn’t raise a fuss, he doesn’t rock the boat, and even doesn’t challenge systematic injustices. Many of us even like to imagine that Jesus’ rejection of kingship meant that he was not critiquing the power structures of His day. Not only did Jesus critique these systems, He subverted them.
In the light of what is happening in cities across America in protest of police brutality, this is the Jesus we must turn to. As we face the continual exploitation of Native American lands, Palestinians being killed, those who protest the Mexican government being killed, and even Christians in Iraq being beheaded, we need to lift up the Jesus who speaks to empire. We need to preach about the Savior who comes to put an end to oppressive regimes by ultimately laying down his life. It is in this Jesus that the oppressed people in the world find their hope; it is where we find our refuge.
Not so silent. Not so calm.
There was no peace. Only alarm.
As Mary’s baby laid asleep in her arms,
Joseph ran to get themselves out of harm.
Jesus disrupts our world.
Jesus disrupts our world.
Support an independent author this Christmas season by purchasing Embracing a Holistic Faith: Essays on Biblical Justice, a collection of essays discussing the intersection of traditional ideas of the Christian faith with the biblical mandate to do justice. This collection invites believers to expand their analysis on the marginalized in society. It also challenges believers to see advocacy, reconciliation and love for neighbor as central components to their spiritual discipline.