Christmas Contradictions: Splendor In The Silence
Two young brothers were sent off to camp for the very first time. After about six days, their parents received a postcard which read: “Dear Mom and Dad, we hope you have not forgotten where you put us!”
Do you ever feel that way about God? Do you ever feel that He has forgotten where He put you? I confess to you that sometimes I feel that way. I look at all that is wrong in our world and in people’s lives, and I wonder where God is in all of it. Isaiah spoke of the coming of God into our world as a child, and he said that that child would be called among other things, “Mighty God.” The words “Mighty God” are not an altogether accurate translation of the Hebrew. Better to read it “Divine Protector.” The Christ who comes to us is to be our Divine Protector. But I confess to you that there are times when I don’t feel so protected. And I look at the struggles people around me are facing, and it doesn’t seem that the Divine Protector is working so well for them either. And I wonder, with things as they are in this world, why is God the Divine Protector, silent? I think of this a lot late at night after watching the horror stories on the 11:00 news, and out of my ponderings, I have drawn several conclusions.
I have come to discover, for example, that God’s power, unlike human power, is most often silent.
If our world began as the astro-physicists suggest, if the universe had its genesis in a great bang, well there was no one there to hear it. When light came across space and touched this dark earth as it was spinning through the blackness and the frigidity of space, and when that light touched the earth and brought with it the possibilities of life, there was no sound. No one has ever heard the sound of an egg being fertilized or the sound of cells beginning to split to form a human being. All this power, all this miracle—and it’s done in silence.
A hundred years ago, a New England farmer by the name of Rutherford Pratt wanted to discover how much power there was within a growing squash—how much internal pressure of growth was built up. So he fastened a squash up to a measuring device, and discovered, to his amazement, that that squash in the process of growth, produced more than 400 pounds of pressure per square inch. Amazing! I think of that when I go out into the woods and walk among the oaks and the elms, the spruce and the pine. I see their leafy crowns high above their intermingled branches creating a canopy of green. I see the bushes, the ivy, the ferns, the blossoming flowers lifting their hands toward the sun. I feel the soft grass beneath my feet. And I think to myself: “If within a single squash there is in the process of creative growth 4000 pounds of pressure per square inch, then how much power must surround me in this woodland glade?” And yet, I do not hear a sound. Indeed it is so silent there that the noise of a bumblebee is quite clear to my ear.
Just because God seems to be silent does not mean that He is not at work, for His creative power demonstrates that His might often comes in great quiet. That’s the way God works. He holds the earth and the planets and the stars in perfect place with magnetic strength and He never makes a sound. He pulls the tides from the deep blue sea with awesome force and never makes a sound. He sends mountains of snow and causes the grass to grow and directs the river’s flow and does it all without a sound. So if God seems silent, that is not so much an indication of His absence as it is an indication of His presence and His power.
And I have come to discover that God’s silent power is the strongest, most lasting power in the world.
Some years ago, Raymer Maquire took the five of us in the Edington family out on his boat to watch the first night time launch of the space shuttle. We anchored in the Banana River not more than a mile or two away from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. It was dark, so dark we couldn’t even see the other boats anchored nearby. Then when ignition and lift off took place, my first impression was one of overwhelming power. Immediately, the flaming engines of the rockets turned the night as bright as the day, and the roaring force of those engines battered the calm waters of the river into waves. It seemed to me in those moments that the world and everything in it would shake to pieces. However, as spectacular as that dazzling power may have been, it was over in a few minutes as those great rocket engines flamed out. It was then that I looked at my children gaping in awestruck wonder at it all, and it dawned on me that the love I felt for them was a lot stronger and would last a lot longer than that shuttle rocket.
Mark it down. Just as children will find more power in their mother’s lap when nestled there, than in a thunderstorm raging outside, so the power of God is oftimes silent even in the midst of clamor. We fall for the lie that that which is noisy is most powerful. Not so. The silent powers are often the greatest powers. There is no greater power than gravity, and yet no one has ever heard its sound. There are no greater powers in life than love, truth, freedom, beauty, and faith—and yet you never hear the sound of these things.
Look at the testimony of history. The golden days of Greece are gone, and the armies of Alexander the Great march no more, but Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and the Dialogues of Plato—these live and have power still. Or think of the Hebrews and their great temple. Today not one stone of the Temple stands upon another. The trumpets which announced the morning sacrifice sound no more. Yet the prophets of ancient Israel, the singers of the Psalms, the writers of the New Testament Gospels and Letters still live and have transforming power. That which splits our eardrums today will pass away and lose even its echo tomorrow. But spiritual truths and genuine love endure. Empires rise and fall, but the Word of God stands forever.
That’s what is so amazing about Christmas. God comes to us in a helpless child born in a dingy stable in a little backwater town and through that child God says to us: “My power is the real power in the world.” I want you to wrap your hearts around this idea today. The real power in life is to be found more in the Manger Child than it is in the White House, more in the cross than it is in a crown, more in a chorus of angels than in armies of soldiers, more in love than it is in force, more in giving than it is in receiving. The world will say to you that the way to be successful, the way to be happy, is to get all you can get while you can get it and however you can get it. Christmas contradicts that. Christmas says “No.” Christmas says that the real power in life is to be found in those things the shepherds talked about so long ago. For in the story of the Christ who came at Christmas is nothing less than the last and greatest hope for the human race. That event and that event alone is significant in the history of our world. Out of the silence of that First Christmas night, came the most splendid news the world has ever heard, the most splendid life the world has ever seen, the most splendid love the world has ever experienced. When I think of it, I am reminded that the strongest, most lasting power in the world is the silent power of God.
Then, best of all, I have come to discover that the silent power of God can be experienced in your life and in mine.
Sometimes you have to get some distance away from a life to see it clearly, but take a man like Louis Pasteur. His early experiments were abysmal failures. He was, as perhaps you know, partially paralyzed. He was mocked by the people in his town. When a war was to be fought and he could not go because of his crippled state, they jeered him so that one night he came home weeping. He said to his wife, through his tears, “I have something to give to France which men with swords cannot give.” And in the end he did just that. Pasteur’s contributions to society have saved more lives than the sword has ever taken. And when Pasteur was asked where he found the courage and the tenacity to pursue his goal in the face of all the abuse he received, his immediate and invariable answer was this: “Christ made me what I am.”
How often the world is blessed because the silent power of God is moving through some man or woman. We see that most perfectly, of course, in the example of Jesus Himself. No one before or since has influenced the world as has Jesus of Nazareth.
- He came into a world of power, but His was the way of love and peace.
- He never went to school, but His life challenges us to develop our capacity to love God with our minds, and in His name thousands of schools and colleges have been founded.
- He never wrote a line, no book bears His name, but His teachings are known and quoted and have shaped the course of human history.
- He, though a carpenter by trade, never built anything of note, but we choose to honor Him through the matchless architectural beauty of cathedrals and churches and wayside chapels, all built to His glory.
- He knew nothing of art, but His spirit ignites the creative spark in the human heart and the art galleries of the worlds are graced with abundant expressions of who He was and who He is.
- He never owned anything of value, and when He died soldiers gambled for the only article in His estate—the seamless robe He wore, but where His teachings are followed the standard of living is lifted, and where His name is claimed no one can sit idly by when the hungry need food and the poor need a friend.
- He spoke more of service than of rights and privileges, but where His message is heard and heeded, the value of every individual is exalted and the rights of all are protected, especially those who are weak and worn, forgotten and unborn.
He lived just 33 years and then His life was cruelly ended, but He changed everything even the way we date history and we can say with Paul that “His name is above every name.”
The only question remaining is: Has His coming changed you? He is a figure of world proportion, but does He relate to you personally. He came to save the world but in order to do that, you and I have to accept Him. Ultimately, that’s what Christmas is all about, receiving Christ into your life. Phillips Brooks was one of America’s greatest preachers. He was the Rector of Trinity Church in Boston. He was a bachelor. He had no family of his own. He gave his life to the Church of Jesus Christ. Phillips Brooks was once in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. He walked outside the little town to the quiet hillside round about. There, beneath the silence of the night sky, he penned some splendid words which seem to me to be both the essence and the challenge of Christmas:
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given,
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still the Dear Christ enters in.
Dear friends, in the silence of this Christmas, receive Christ in your life, and you will know the splendor of His entrance into your heart…