Noisy Night

OK, I have a confession.  Actually, I think I’ve made this confession before but I’ll make it again just in case folks weren’t reading my blog the last time I made it.

I can’t stand the hymn, “Silent Night.”

I don’t mind the tune, it’s actually rather beautiful.  What I mind is that the song makes no sense theologically or narratively.

  • It minimizes the idea that the birth narrative is a story of the incarnation.  I know people keep saying, “There are babies that don’t cry when they’re born.”  I realize it’s true.  Yet, given the serious problem that a lot of Christians have letting Jesus be human I have problems with it.
  • People always want to sing this song at the end of the service, right after the point where the shepherds go off rejoicing and praising God.  Narrative disconnect anyone?  Actually, the placement of “Silent Night” at the very end of the service in order to maintain a sense of nostalgia is pretty much an indictment on a lot of Protestant worship – it has no connection to the story it’s supposed to tell, and doesn’t seem to be looking for it.  I just had another conversation of doing “Silent Night” at the end of Christmas Eve worship again.  When I pointed out that it doesn’t make narrative sense at that point in the worship the reply, from a person I value highly, was, “It doesn’t have to make sense!”  If we’re talking about narrative consistency, it actually does.

Anyway, after the kids went down to bed my daughter made a reappearance and handed me a night with a poem on it.  Entitled, “Noisy Night.”  Here’s what she wrote.

Noisy Night Holy Night
Mary with Jesus in her arms
angels sent down from Heaven above
While people and animals crowded around.
While the angels sang the people cheered.
What a happy and noisy night.


  1. Mel says:

    “What I mind is that the song makes no sense theologically or narratively”

    To ask the dumb question: How so?

    Going though the lyrics I can see that some of it could be off beat (but then I think this for many hymns) and I can understand that it isn’t the best song to sing at the end but that leaves me still confused so… please explain?

  2. wezlo says:

    Well, kinda laid it out.

    First, theologically it muddies the incarnation by turning Jesus into some kinda stoic uber-baby. I’ve been to 2 births in my life. They aren’t silent.

    Remember, worship is the enacting of the story. So when you have a moment in the narrative (on Christmas it’s when the shepherds leave) the moves into the benediction and sending, the congregational singing should match. In the nativity narrative you’ve got a birth, a shouting host of angels, and shepherds departing the scene having just seen the Messiah and praising God and rejoicing. Narrative consistency requires a song that matches or aligns with that moment in the story. “Silent Night,” just doesn’t fit the bill for me. “Joy to the World,” on the other hand, rocks for that moment.

    It’s a similar disconnect that leaves me banging my head on the wall when folks sing Christmas carols during Advent, it’s like skipping to the last chapter of every novel you’ve ever read. You can do it, in the long run your only short-changing yourself.

  3. coffeezombie says:

    Hm…a few comments:

    First, I still don’t think I understand this “story” talk. How does worship enact the story? And what’s with “doing” a story? How can you do a noun? (Sorry, it’s like you’re speaking Greek to me. If this language communicates with the people you want to communicate with, that’s fine. The rest of us are just confused.)

    Anyway, as far as the “no crying he makes” stuff, I guess you’re not a huge fan of the Orthodox doctrines regarding the Ever-Virginity of the Theotokos. By that, I don’t just mean that a Virgin bore a Child (I mean, how often are humans born of virgins?), but that (if I remember correctly) we believe that her virginity was preserved throughout the birth.

    Finally, regarding the “narrative disconnect,” I guess Orthodox are just not too terribly concerned with narrative continuity. Well, we are to a large degree, but, at the same time, IIRC, many of the hymns (particularly around Good Friday) put words in people’s mouths they couldn’t have said (because they didn’t know these things yet). During Holy Week, all the services, though going through the Cross, Burial, etc., are still tinged with the coming Resurrection.

    Here’s an example: We recently celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple. There’s all sorts of anachronisms here. The troparion for the feast is:

    Today is the preview of the good will of God, Of the preaching of the salvation of mankind. The Virgin appears in the temple of God, In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all. Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice, O Divine Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.

    How could the Virgin, appearing in the temple, proclaim Christ? For one thing, she’s 3 years old (you could say, out of the mouths of babes and infants, I suppose)! For another, Christ isn’t born yet! While, the Mother of God was hoping for the coming of the Messiah, Tradition tells us that she never thought she might be His Mother; she only hoped that, perhaps, she might be His Mother’s handmaiden.

    Also, this feast celebrates the end of the old Temple and the beginning of the New Testament, where God dwells in his Church.

    Anyway, forgive me if this comment is too long, or if I’ve said anything wrong.

  4. Cathi says:

    First, I love the song. It is beautiful, and brings a holy quiet and moment of reflection to a magnificent celebration. Second, I don’t think the word silent is refering to the actual birth process, but to the fact that, in the middle of an ordinary, silent night, God entered the world in a maraculous way. It is so beautiful when sung during the candle lighting, as one flame turns into a sanctuary full of flickering light…Son of God, love’s pure light-Radiant beams from thy holy face-with the dawn of redeeming grace-Jesus, Lord at thy birth.
    Anyway, sing the song or not, I still like it!

  5. wezlo says:

    That’s about the best defense of the song I’ve ever seen. I do color it with my dislike of the “little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” line from “Away in a manger.”

    I still don’t care for the song, mind you, but you made your point well.

    Just do me one favor, we need to correct a bad translation. It’s not “radiant beams” it’s “radiance beams.”

    The latter refers to the glory of God, the second is Dr. Evil looking for “freaking sharks with lazer beams on their foreheads.”

Comments are closed.