On a museum visit a few days before Christmas one year, an exhibit I especially wanted to see was on display in a remote corner of the top floor. Perhaps the idea behind this strategic location was to get visitors to hike through some of the less-frequented areas of the museum. Indeed, it was quite a feat to find the room on the map and trek down the long, winding corridors. When I got there, I was alone. It seemed I was the only person interested in blue and white porcelain on that particular day.
It was blissfully silent, almost unnaturally quiet. As I stood there admiring the artistry of each individual piece, I became aware of a noise, an insistent tap-tap-tapping headed in my direction. My first thought was, “Who wears rude shoes to a museum?” My notion of a museum as a place of relative quiet was challenged by the loud approach of someone who had just as much right to be there as I did.
Shame and self-reproach washed through my soul as I saw a young, visually impaired man making his way down the hall, assisted by the steady arm of a companion and the sure sight of his long cane. When our paths crossed, he made a U-turn and kept walking. Though he perhaps sensed my presence, he was completely focused on moving ahead.
I sat down for a moment and considered the noise so necessary for his connection to life. I wondered, too, what a blind man could see in a museum. Perhaps he was there to gain the confidence necessary for a life of self-determination and independence. While I was there simply to look at man-made beauty, he was exploring the world. Disturbed by my rush to judgment, I left deep in thought about the noise that constantly surrounds us and the spiritual blindness that sometimes convicts us.
According to Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Gratefully, most of us will never know what it feels like to be blind and live in darkness or to be deaf and live in silence. Yet when we grieve the death of one we love, for a while we are spiritually blind. We grope our way through the darkness of grief because we cannot see the light of new life. In the presence of God our heart is transformed from darkness into light. In Emmanuel, we behold a clear vision for the rest of our lives.
Though we would like it to be otherwise, we cannot will our grief to be over just because it is Christmas. As the sounds of Advent urge us yet again toward the manger, for a while we may need to listen through the darkness of our grief and follow the noise of the season, “Let me hear joy and gladness” (Psalm 51:8). Perhaps the birth of Christ was not such a “silent night” after all. Jesus was born into the noise of earthly life—the clip-clop of a weary donkey, the insistent sounds of hungry manger animals, the sighs of a mother in labor. If we do not pay attention to the noise, we may miss the experience of Christmas, “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them” (Luke 2:20 KJV).
With the heavenly music of an entire chorus of angels and the brilliant light of a radiant star, God proclaims that a savior is born to all the world. As we kneel in awe and wonder before Christ the Lord in the presence of God incarnate, may the carols of our soul be the most beautiful noise of all. In an exquisite moment of Christmas, hear and receive the love of Emmanuel, God with us.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.