“Silent Night” remains one of the most beloved of the traditional Christmas carols. The words, the tune, the message are all so simple yet so unforgettable (which is true of the Christmas message itself). The picture of the Christ child sleeping “in heavenly peace” amid less than ideal surroundings is one that beckons us during a season when crowds and commotion are all too common.
“Silent night” also describes an evening that took place, ironically, near the end of Jesus’ earthly life. That was the night of his betrayal and so-called trial—the series of events that led to the crucifixion. Like Bethlehem, Jerusalem that night was abuzz with activity—scheming, plotting, accusing, and all of it hurled at Jesus, the alleged Messiah. Men were gathered to do to Jesus the man what King Herod had failed to do to Jesus the infant.
And in the midst of it came only silence from the one being accused. Isaiah the prophet foresaw this coming and described it in these words: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
What makes this silence so striking is that Jesus had become quite popular (or unpopular, depending on one’s point of view) for the power and magnetism of his words and the way in which he had spoken up on behalf of so many.
He had spoken in defense of and out of compassion for those considered outcasts and rejects: the woman taken in adultery, Zacchaeus and other tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, and anyone suffering physically or spiritually.
He had spoken out against the religious leaders and their hypocrisy.
He had spoken regularly to his Father in prayer.
Yet, when he had the opportunity to speak up for himself, there were no words. When he could have called 12 legions of angels to come to his defense, he kept his mouth closed. When he could have cried out for vengeance against his enemies or fire from Heaven, there was, literally, “dead silence.”
When Abraham was about to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, Heaven clearly spoke. An angel intervened: “Do not lay a hand on the boy” (Genesis 22:12). But at the cross there was no voice from Heaven to say, “Do not lay a hand on my Son.” Why not? Because, as Isaiah also foretold, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
The silence of the Lamb of God still speaks volumes.