by Alastair Sterne
December 25, 2014
5 min read
Christmas should cause us to be silent. And yes, I recognize the irony of calling for silence through a post full of words shared on social media! As Zechariah said, “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling” (Zechariah 2:13). In other words, “Be silent everybody!”
Of course, during the elated-excited-madness of Christmas day, many of us say a hearty “Amen!” to some much needed silence. “Be silent! It’s nap time!”, we quip. Yet for others, all the celebration around the holidays has a different effect. All the singing and rejoicing, the awe and wonder, it makes some want to say “Be silent! Enough pretending about this God-in-flesh business!” The celebration can quickly be overshadowed by cynicism. If this season causes you to think, “It’s nice that you think God will show up and save the world — but where is he?” I want you to know, I appreciate that concern. I also appreciate the complexity behind what drives you to ask it. It’s actually very biblical.
The Psalms in the Bible are just ancient prayers. Prayers of people who struggled with the same questions that we struggle with. One prayer in particular, Psalm 44, says to God, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” It doesn’t matter if you are a person of faith or not — these words resonate don’t they?
When Zechariah says “Be silent, before for the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling” it echoes this prayer of Psalm 44. When God reveals himself to the world it should, at least for a moment, cause us to be silent. Because holiness — goodness beyond what we can fathom — has entered into a broken place.
But it’s not just a command. “Be silent!” here isn’t a hearty bellow that echoes through the corridors of our existence. That’s not it at all.
My daughter Ansley is a year and a half. It’s a fun age. What is fun, about the past few weeks actually, is that she’s learning to play “pretend.” The other day, I was playing with her. She took her favourite stuffed animal. A lamb, whom we have creatively named “Lamby.” She takes Lamby, lays him down on the floor, looks at me and goes “Shhhhh.” I go “Oh! Is Lamby sleepi-” — but she interrupted me, shook her head, and restated, “Shhh!” She had the most condescending look on her face. Which I just loved. She looked at me with her big blue eyes with concern, “Don’t you know that when people are sleeping you stay ‘Shhhh!’”
She knows it’s the appropriate response.
Zechariah is employing onomatopoeia. The word for “silence” in the Hebrew is actually a sound. “Shhhh. God has roused himself.” Pay attention to what he’s doing. He’s answering our prayers. He’s showing up. He is setting the world back to rights. He’s bringing about good by his very presence.
It’s interesting isn’t it?
When it seems God is absent we’re told to speak up, to challenge him, to tell him to rouse himself. But when he acts, the appropriate response is silence.
This whole passage from Zechariah is about God showing up. A Holy God dwelling with us, a broken people in a broken world. The big question of course is “When and where did God show up in such a way that we should be silent?” But during this season, questions like this make me just wanted to shake my head dramatically, and just like my daughter say “Shhh. Shhh.”
If you want to find God, don’t ask, look.
Look in the most shockingly ordinary place.
God did not tear open the sky in a giant cosmic version of peek-a-boo. He is not content to force belief upon us all. No, 500 years after Zechariah prophesied about it, God tore open creation by entering right into it. He entered into a manger, in the form of a baby.
It’s there in that mysterious manger that silence should fall over us.
There, in the helpless form of a baby, lays God himself. There lays Jesus, the one whom God will use to reconcile the entire world. All things, every thing, every person who is willing. There lays Jesus, the one who will make and things new. There lays Jesus, the one who will unify all the nations. Jesus, the one who will knit all of humanity into unity through love.
There lays Jesus, our Saviour.
If you want to see the world renewed with lasting peace and goodness, if you want God to show his face, then look no further than Christmas. Look to that manger. Because the world can’t save itself. Only God can save us. But, “Shh.” God is with us, and for us, and has roused himself. He has taken action. Jesus has come and He will return and ultimately make everything right.
But for now, “Shhh.”
See the hope of the world in that manger.
Yes, Christmas should cause us to be silent.