By CHARLES QUARLES, Chair of Christian Studies, Louisiana College
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.[img_assist|nid=6933|title=Charles Quarles|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=75|height=100]
This beloved Christmas hymn was written by Joseph Mohr in Germany in the early 1800’s. The organ in his church was broken, so he penned this simple hymn to be sung to the tune of his guitar on Christmas morning.
The hymn beautifully depicts a quiet rural 19th century German Christmas. Since the German carol was translated into English, it has become such a traditional part of our Christmas celebration that we may have failed to ask whether it accurately depicts the first Christmas. Does it? I think not.
The hymn repeats the refrain “Silent night, holy night.” That is only half true.
The first Christmas was indeed a holy night when God himself visited the earth in the form of a tiny baby.
Nevertheless, the first Christmas was not a silent night. In fact, it was a very loud night, a night when angels shook the countryside with their glorious announcement that the Savior had been born, a night when shepherds went from village to village, pounding on doors, waking the sleeping people, and boldly proclaiming all the things that they had heard and seen just as the angel said to them.
The first Christmas was a holy night but it was not a silent night. If it had been silent, it would not have been holy.
If it were holy, it could not be silent. For the angels and shepherds to silence the glorious saving message of Christmas would have been an unthinkable sin that would have desecrated that hallowed occasion.
Will your Christmas be a silent one or a holy one?
Will you defile this season by failing to share the good news of the Savior’s coming or will you hallow this season by boldly sharing the Christmas gospel?
In the last issue, we examined these extraordinary men. We discovered they were shepherds who raised sacrificial lambs, and that the announcement of the Messiah’s birth to them fulfilled a centuries-old prophecy. Now, let’s examine the message and mission of the shepherds.
The angels said, “Fear not, we bring you good tidings of great joy.” The Greek verb here is euangelizo which typically means to proclaim the good news, to evangelize or to preach the gospel in the NT.
Thus, the message of the angel to the shepherds summarizes the essence of the gospel. It does so through three theologically-rich titles of Jesus. He is called (v. 11) a Savior who is Christ, the Lord.
First, he is our Savior. In Matthew 1:21, the angel told Joseph to name this baby Jesus, which in Hebrew means Jehovah saves.
Then the angel explained, “For he will save His people from their sins.” The title “savior” proclaims that Jesus would be the true Lamb of sacrifice who would die to provide forgiveness to God’s people.
The shepherds likely recognized that Jesus was born to save sinners through a sacrificial death. The angel gave the shepherds a sign to help them identify and understand the significance of the baby born in Bethlehem.
The newborn would be placed in a manger, a feed trough for animals in a stable. A stable was an unusual birth ward for the King of the Jews, but many a little lamb had been birthed there.
A manger was an unthinkable cradle for the long-awaited Messiah, but it was just the sort of place that shepherds might place a new-born lamb.
Thus the circumstances of Jesus’ birth likely confirmed to the shepherds of sacrifice that the promise of Isaiah 53 was being fulfilled and that the Servant of the Lord, the human sacrificial lamb, had at last come to save us.
The sign announced by the angel shouted, just as John the Baptist would later exclaim, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
The name “Christ,” like the Hebrew Messiah, means “anointed one.” Kings were anointed by a prophet when they were given authority over the nation. Thus the name Christ, “anointed one” refers primarily to Jesus’ kingship (Luke 23:2). He is the King of every true believer here and now as we surrender our lives to His authority and choose to live under His rule.
Finally, He is called, “the Lord.” The Greek term is kurios. The word is normally a title of Deity.
This is the same word used throughout the OT and NT for the eternal God who created all that exists. Unfortunately, modern English readers assume that “Lord” is merely a title of authority. The preceding usages in Luke make it clear that this is not the case here. Luke 1:6 refers to the “commandments and requirements of the Lord.”
Who was the Lord who gave the commandments? Yahweh wrote them with His own finger in tablets of stone.
Luke 1:8 refers to the temple of Jerusalem as “the sanctuary of the Lord.”
Who was the Lord who resided in the Jerusalem temple? Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Luke 1:16 refers explicitly to “the Lord their God.” The words of the angel to Mary refer to “the Lord God” (Luke 1:32). Mary’s song of praise uses Hebrew parallelism to identify the “Lord” as “God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
Thus the title “Lord” demonstrates that this baby in Bethlehem who would rule over God’s people and save them from their sins is God himself, Deity incarnate, Immanuel, God with Us.
The heart of the gospel is thus expressed in this single statement: Jesus is the Savior, Christ the Lord. He is to be our sacrificial Lamb, our King, and our God.
This gospel that was announced by the angels to the shepherds was not intended for them alone.
Read v. 10 again.
“I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be for you, for a few people, for some people?” No! The angels said that this gospel is for ALL people! The announcement to the shepherds was accompanied by a commission to carry the gospel to everyone.
So these shepherds abandoned their flocks and went from village to village, pounding on doors, waking people from their sleep, and proclaiming the wondrous message that the Savior had been born.
If not for their faithfulness, the people of Bethlehem would never have known that the Savior had been born in their very midst. There are still a lot of folks who don’t know who that little boy in the manger is. They may never know, if we don’t tell them.
Silent night, Holy night? No, Christmas cannot be both. If it is silent, it cannot be holy. If it is holy, it cannot be silent. Which will it be for you?
Charles Quarles is holder of the William Peterson Carter, Jr. Professorship, Senior Research Professor of New Testament and Greek.
By CHARLES QUARLES, Chair of Christian Studies, Louisiana College