I am sure that most of us enjoy singing Silent Night at Christmas. Even if we do not remember all of the words, the first stanza easily floats through our minds.
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
But in reality was it a silent and calm night filled with heavenly peace – or is this just a figment of the song? If you are a woman who has given birth, or a man who has coached your wife through labor, you understand why the term “labor” is used for childbirth. It is hard and painful work that in most cases is not silent or calm.
My intent is not to cast dispersions on Silent Night, but to remind all of us that when God calls us to take a certain path it may be difficult and hard to travel. The path may be far from calm and peaceful, but if we trust in Him, God can use us in a mighty way.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a wonderful example of this. What God asked of Mary not only seemed improbable, but too much for a young adolescent girl to bear. Mary, however, humbly and faithfully accepted this supernatural blessing, even though she knew it would probably mean a path filled with hardships (some of which she could not even have begun to understand). Yet, she was willing to be God’s hand servant despite the risk.
It would be too long to write about all of the possible and real hardships Mary faced, but let me mention two – the cultural ramifications and the birth.
Mary accepted God’s path for her knowing that she was taking a great risk and that Joseph and her family members could reject her. According to Old Testament law, she could have been stoned to death. But the more probable risk is that she would have been put away or become an outcast with a child to support, which often meant living the life of a prostitute. Mary walked by faith knowing that if God called her, then He would provide.
Can you imagine being in the last weeks of your pregnancy and having to make the hilly, 80-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem on foot, by a donkey, or a cart? Not knowing exactly when or where you would give birth. I have been to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Underneath the church is the “Grotto of the Nativity,” the cave (stable), where Jesus was supposedly born. I cannot tell you if this is the exact site, but if not, it was probably a similar cave minus the ornamentation.
Mary would have given birth to Jesus in a cold, dank cave, surrounded by animal smells, and without the help of familiar women to comfort and coach her. Something tells me that neither Mary nor Joseph would have been thinking on the night of Jesus birth that it was silent, calm or peaceful.
The Christian Life – Bliss or Risk
As I have thought about Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus, I have thought about the risk that God also calls us to take (though not so profound). Sometimes we read or hear someone paint the Christian walk as one of bliss with little risks, but that is far from what scripture teaches us. Instead, the story of Christ’s birth and New Testament scripture assures us that when we choose to follow God that we are choosing to walk a path that at times will be filled with difficulties and uncertainties. Paul wrote:
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that sufferings produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his life into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us. Romans 5:2b-5, NIT
As I write this, I think of two people who are very special to me. Like Mary, God has called both of these people down difficult paths that have not been silent, peaceful, or calm. Yet in the dark nights of their souls, God has given them the gifts of communion with Him through prayer and scripture reading. This has added a great depth and dimension to their lives that most of us will never experience here on earth. Like Mary, they would say, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful for the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48, NIV). They also would tell you that as hard as it has been for them that they rejoice in the path God has allowed them to walk because of the hope He has given to them.
The reality is the night that Christ was born was probably not the idyllic setting that we often sing about, but we can rejoice because on that night “Glories streamed from heaven afar…Alleluia, Christ the Savior was born?”
Today’s Think Through: Have you ever been asked how you can believe in a virgin birth? I think that is a fair question and my belief is based on faith and the meticulous accuracy of the fulfilling of Old Testament prophecy that were given hundreds of years earlier.
Another experience has reinforced my belief and that is spending time in Africa. I have been going back and forth to Africa for five years, and my eyes have been open to a supernatural world that most Westerners never experience. My African students have challenged me, that if I believe in miracles then I also have to believe in the supernatural forces of the spiritual world.
In Africa you observe things happening that almost seem inconceivable and you begin to realize the spiritual forces at work around us. I am saying all of this to tell you that if demonic forces have the power to display themselves in such a formidable way then God, the creator of heaven and earth, could bring His Son to dwell among us through the virgin birth.
*The title for this blog was taken from Andrew Petersen’s song, Labor of Love.