- Brad Nelson
I have a confession to make about Christmas music: I don't like it. Mostly because I’m convinced whoever wrote the musical arrangements for most Christmas songs was using amphetamines. Even the simplest Christmas songs require guitarists to make chords changes at the speed of light. After leading Christmas carols on guitar I feel like a hyperventilating hamster in need of a scotch.
But this advent is different, because for the first time I’ve noticed something about the Christmas story in Luke. There are 2 babies. And there are 2 songs.
After the angel Gabriel visits Mary with the news that she'll give birth to the Son of God, Mary rushes to Judea to meet her relative Elizabeth who is also pregnant with a special baby. When Mary arrives, the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaps for joy. Before Elizabeth knows what she's doing, she breaks into prophetic speech, and the word she uses most frequently is blessed. Mary hears all of this and bursts into song herself. "My soul glorifies the Lord!" She sings what we now know as Mary's Magnificat. That's the first song.
Later, when Elizabeth gives birth and it’s time to name the baby, the family wants to name him after his father. Elizabeth protests, and the family turns to Zechariah as if to say, "Are you okay with this?" Unable to speak because he hadn’t believed Gabriel's news, Zechariah makes for a writing tablet and scratches out the words, "His name is John!" No sooner does he finish writing, and for the first time in 9 months, his lips are opened. And what does he do? He bursts into song. "Praise be the God of Israel." He's been silent for 9 long months, and the first thing he does is sing. From silence to song.
2 babies. 2 songs.
And there's something about Zechariah breaking his long silence and taking his baby in his arms and singing that stirs something deep in me.
As we will soon find out, John the Baptist will grow up to become the last of the old prophets preparing the way for the Son of God who will usher in a new age of redemption and restoration. A prophet was a mouthpiece for the Lord. Prophets called out to the people, letting them know what God had to say. Prophets were anything but silent. But as best we can tell, prior to John's birth, the last prophets to speak God's words lived 400-500 years ago. It'd been a long, silent time in the history of God's people. Where had the prophets gone? Why did they no longer speak? Why was God silent?
But now there was this baby, a prophet who would once again speak God's words in the hearing of Israel. And so Zechariah takes this baby in his arms and sings. From silence to song.
There are moments in life, seasons in life, when it seems God goes silent. We wait. We listen. Nothing. No movement. No stirring. No signs of hope or relief. In the silence, it's tempting to believe nothing is happening. Advent, this season of waiting on and celebrating God's arrival, is about not only the movement from silence to song but also the connection of silence and song.
One of the cruel twists of fate is that Beethoven went deaf. He began losing his hearing around 1800. By the end of his life he was almost completely deaf, and yet, in the silence, he continued to compose some of his most respected music. In 1824, his 9th Symphony premiered. It was considered by many to be one of the finest pieces of music ever composed. Beethoven heard neither the symphony nor the applause.
But it's not just Beethoven. Good musicians understand the crucial role silence plays in music. The pauses create tension. They give weight to what is about to come or what has just passed. These silences are not empty, dead space. They're the crucial, fertile silences that make a song what it is. Musically speaking, in the silence, something is happening.
In your season of waiting on God to speak, don’t be fooled into thinking that just because it seems like nothing's happening, nothing's happening. In the silence, a song is brewing. Even now, in the quiet pause, in the desperate waiting between what was and what is to come, a song is being composed. You are becoming, and this becoming is not empty and passive. It's active, fertile, and alive no matter how hidden it may seem to your ears. Wherever you find yourself waiting this Advent season, keep composing. Keep becoming. Keep hoping and listening. Somewhere beneath the silence that is your life, a faint chord is striking, a song is brewing.