SILENT NIGHT Jon Hamilton
It’s difficult to say precisely where the sound began, but the first echoes were certainly not far from the throne. In any event, the news quickly spread. As it reached more and more angelic ears, the emotion that resulted could not be contained. It spilled out of angelic souls as shouts of triumph. Some brandished their swords, shouting “He is born! He is born!” Others roared with laughter. The smaller angels began to run in little circles, waving their arms.
From mouth to mouth, from ear to ear the sound began to swell. It poured from the highest points of Glory It cascaded across galaxies and dimensions. It shook the very foundations of The City. The sound was of pure joy. Its sheer volume could have vaporized any ear of flesh.
“The Word has become man!”
Gabriel stood astride the City gates thundering. “He who was from the beginning, whom nothing was made without, He has humbled himself and become flesh!!”
“Oh the mysteries of our God!” echoed Michael, sword drawn. “The seed of the woman, shall now bruise the head of the serpent!” With each new declaration, heaven roared with delight, and the entire unseen realm quaked and rocked.
“Who shall share our joy with earth?” The question came from one of the smaller messengers. “Heaven can not contain our rapture. Shall not the earth hear?”
Gabriel, the One who Stands in the Presence of the Lord, seldom was anything but serious. But as he looked at the little angel, a broad grin swept his face, and a mischievous look entered his eyes. “You! Call your company. Let us bear the news to the City of David!”
In a split-second, they were gone.
It really was an unusually silent night. It was hard to believe it was the same noisy town where earlier in the day crowds had gathered for the census. Now the only sound was an occasional whisper of wind.
The moon had cast its silver shadow along the rocky peaks. In the fields beyond town, the grass, already wet with dew was beginning to develop a light frost. Eliab shivered, and pulled his cloak tight. He took another glance towards the overhang where he had gathered his flock for the night. All was still.
Jonas called to him. “Come sit, Eliab. The fire is warm, our flocks are fine.” Eliab glanced back at his companions. “Sit!” Jonas insisted. Eliab sighed deeply, turned, and began walking towards the fire.
He had scarcely taken a step, when the sky above them suddenly exploded into flame. A brilliant shaft of light seemed to slice open the heavens, bathing the fields around. Eliab fell stunned to the ground. Blinding light! It burned like heat upon his head and shoulders. Holiness! Holiness! His heart seemed to shrivel up inside his chest. All strength left his body. His buried his face in the dust.
“Do NOT fear!” came a thundering.
The voice commanded an authority that could be but obeyed. Eliab lifted his head to see.
Before him, a figure stood as a giant, clothed in brilliant white, except for his belt which shimmered with gold. His feet glowed white-hot. To look at his face was to stare at a constant bolt of lightning. The glory rimmed two burning red eyes of fire.
Eliab could behold it no longer, he buried his face in his hands. Yet he continued to see perfectly, as if the image was burning through his hands and eyelids.
“Behold! I bear unto you Good News! Great joy! Joy for all humanity!!”
Every word was as the voice of a million waterfalls. It seared into every fiber of his body. It was agony. It was ecstasy.
“To you, this very day, in the City of David, is born a Savior.., the Messiah… the Lord!”
Eliab’s heart seemed to pound out of his chest. Every sinew in his physical body strained to flee for its life. Yet his innermost being seemed overwhelmed with an indescribable euphoria.
“And I give you this sign… You shall find the baby, wrapped in rags… lying in a feeding trough.”
With that, the terrible apparition drew his sword across the night sky, slicing time and space. Through the jagged tear, it seemed as if all heaven began to spill out. Hundreds. No… Thousands! No… Millions!
In one massive voice that shook the earth they cried, “Glory to God! Glory to God in the Highest! On the Earth, Peace to men upon whom God’s favor rests!”
The earth seemed to drink up the words. Like water on parched ground, the blessing soaked into creation. The heavenly chorus became louder and louder, while Eliab’s chest pounded harder and harder. The crescendo rose until suddenly…. all was silent.
As quickly as it all started, it stopped. For several minutes, Eliab remained motionless, aware only of his own heartbeat. As his senses returned slowly, he could hear Jonas nearby, moaning “Holy.. .Holy . .Holy. .Holy..” A wisp of cold wind across his sweat-drenched neck caused him to open his eyes, and slowly rise to his feet. His other companions stared blankly into the sky. Only Jonas was still prostrate.
Walking over to his friend, Eliab placed a hand on Jonas shoulder. “Come, friend. Rise.” Jonas looked up and their eyes met. Eliab offered him his arm. “I believe it is time we go into town and see what God has revealed to us.”
The men said little as they walked to town. Somehow they all knew the exact place the angel spoke of. The picture of the stable was emblazoned in their minds. As they drew near, the stench betrayed the cave’s entrance. The little grotto had been used to stable animals for decades, and years of impacted filth created an aroma strong enough to water the eyes. Fresh deposits made the entrance a bit hazardous, and as the shepherds entered, they pressed against the sides to avoid the deepest places.
It was the type of place that could make you shudder. Dark, filthy, and nasty. The type of place where you don’t want any part of your body to touch any surface, you want to hold your breath, and when you leave, you really would like to remove your outer layer of skin.
Inside, the men saw the dim glow of a single oil lamp. As their eyes adjusted to the dim light, they heard a startled voice call out “Who.. .Who is it?” As they followed the sound, their eyes rested upon a weary, bewildered carpenter, his very young wife, (recently exhausted from childbirth), and bundled in bloody rags, lying in an old feeding trough… a baby.
After a brief visit, the men did what all men must do after a heavenly encounter: They went back to work. As they walked back to the sleeping flocks still gathered under the rocky cliffs, they began to find their tongues.
“Imagine!” said one. “A stable! What an unlikely place to choose!”
“No more unlikely the place, than we the people.” responded another. “Why should we be the ones to receive this heavenly visitation? Why not the Chief Priests in Jerusalem? Who are we?!”
A few moments of silence passed. Then Eliab spoke. “God does not choose as men choose.
He stopped and looked the others in the face. “Men look to the honorable for honor. God looks to the despised and humble. Men would have chosen manly Esau. God chose effeminate Jacob. God chose the coward Gideon, hiding in fear, and made him a mighty man of valor. God chose a nation of slaves to make his prized possession. God chose a stuttering failure to become a prophet and lead them out. God chose a lowly shepherd boy to become a king after His own heart. He chose the son of the adulteress to be king after him.”
Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Today… today he has chosen again! Today he has chosen the most dishonorable place, in the most lowly city, in the most despised nation on earth! Here he has brought his Glory!” His voice fell to a whisper. “And we, the unlikely ones We have beheld his Salvation.”
For a few moments they all stood still. Just above the horizon the first hint of the sunrise was beginning to cast a silhouette along the rocky peaks of Bethlehem. As one, the men turned, and began silently to make their way back to their flocks.
God still chooses the stable. It is the humble life that receives his calling. It is in the humble place his Spirit manifests. Do not seek Him elsewhere, He will not be found.