Silent Night Reflections
Luke 1:51-55, 2:19
There are two tracks for the UFMCC Advent Resources this season, both focusing on the 200th anniversary of the carol “Silent Night.” One reflection centers on a justice theme, entitled “No More Silent Night”, calling us to action against a silence that equals death. The second reflection, “Silent Night: Living the Song” examines key words in the lyrics of the carol, seeking a contemplative path. It is difficult to choose between these two compelling themes, reminding me of E.B. White’s quote, “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world, and a desire to enjoy the world. That makes it hard to plan the day.”
Perhaps, however, we do not need to choose between the action of social justice and the contemplative practice of inhabiting the words of the carol. It very well may be that both action and contemplation cannot be fully experienced without each other. In fact, one without the other can lead to a hardening into self-righteous moral judgment for the non-contemplative social activist, or an irrelevant gazer of one’s navel for the contemplative who shuts out those whose lives and spirits are being crushed by inequality and injustice. For us to have the strength to call out injustices, we need time for prayer, reflection and silence—time to “sleep in heavenly peace.” And in order for the Holy’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, we need to listen in the contemplative silence for the call to attend to social justice, to consider our personal skills and abilities that equip us to make room at the table for everyone.
Mary serves as a model for balancing contemplation with social justice through her understanding of her role as the mother of the long-promised Messiah. Luke tells us when Mary hears the reason for the shepherds’ visit to the stable, she “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart,” (Luke 2:19). Yet she speaks boldly of God’s desire for social justice when she declares, “The Almighty has shown strength with God’s own arm . . . and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things . . . God has helped Israel, the servant of the Almighty, in remembrance of God’s mercy, according to the promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants forever.” Like Mary, may we also hold dear both our need for contemplation and our partnership with the Holy to achieve social justice. May it be so.