A Cry in the Silence – Another reflection in Fr. Pat Griffin’s series Considering Consecrated Life
Of all the songs associated with the Christmas season, is any one more widely known or sung than “Silent Night”? I think that every Christmas pageant or show which I have attended employs this song at the end of the celebration—or, at least, it seems that way. One can hardly imagine a Christmas album lacking this classic. The beautiful music offers part of the reason for its popularity, but this finds its equal in the touching words which capture a scene and an experience.
Silent Night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, mother and child,
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
We feel the calm and quiet of the scene. The night sky and the stars form part of the image. I imagine the evening as clear, perhaps a little cool, yet silent and peaceful. And then, the sound of a newborn child’s cry breaks the calm: Jesus is born. In the midst of the silent night erupts the sound of life. And we feel the joy.
That cry which cuts through the night carries significance. We know how a doctor wants a child to cry out upon being born. It shows that the lungs are functioning and clear. The baby sucks in his first gulp of air and lets it out with a powerful cry and everyone exults. He is healthy and strong! This is Jesus’ first breath—the first of so many which will punctuate his life. And what does he say in this first sound? Let me suggest three interpretations:
- A Proclamation: He announces, “I am here. God is present with his people.” The world is now forever changed. The God of Israel who strove to remain ever close to his people—in their fidelity and rejection, in their oppression in Egypt and their wandering in the desert, in their homes and Temple—this God now will walk among them. As both Mary and Zechariah will announce: God has fulfilled his promise to be with his people. The Messiah, the Christ, has come. Jesus proclaims that truth with his first breath. Let us welcome that good news this evening. God is with us!
- An Affirmation: He declares: “I share your life.” The breath which gives him life also will bring life to his brothers and sisters. His words, carried on his life breath, will bring instruction and comfort. He will speak to bring healing, forgiveness, and nourishment to others. He will share his life with all kinds of people and he will continue to draw these breaths till he exhales for the last time on Calvary.
This same breath speaks over the bread and the wine, making the Eucharistic food into his body and blood—his breath and his words carry power and presence. With this effort, he remains among us under these elements and gives life and nourishment.
The cry of the infant Jesus is the first of many cries which also express the needs of the world. Jesus cries to clear his lungs, but in the coming hours and days and months, he will cry again when he is hungry, when he is cold, when he wants to be held, and when he is dirty. He will cry out at the range of human need as he experiences our reality. And in his adult life, he will cry out for those who suffer hunger and privation and loneliness. The Psalmist reminds us:
This poor one cried out and the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him. . . .
The righteous cry out, the LORD hears
and he rescues them from all their afflictions. (Ps 34:7, 18)
The Lord hears the cry of the poor, and answers. As Jesus utters this first cry of his presence among us, he captures the cry of the needy. “I share your life with all its joys and sorrows, and I am with you.”
- An Invitation: He calls “Come to me.” Shepherds and magi will hear that call in these nights. Faithful men and women of Israel will seek him out in the coming weeks to see the fulfillment of the divine promises. All during his life, Jesus will proclaim this message by both his words and demeanor. People from every walk of life and every level of society will come to him and find a welcome, particularly those who are in need: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). No one who approaches him will experience rejection. In the cry of Jesus rests the promise that those who come will never be alone again. God is with us.
On this silent night, this holy night, we hear the voice of Jesus for the first time, and with this cry he tells us many things: I am with you; I share your life; come to me. Our brother has come from our Father to tell of his love and care. In the silence of the night, we hear life promised and proclaimed. We gather with joy-filled hearts and thankfully praise our God as a faith-filled community. God is with us!