This past Saturday, my family and I attended the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's Christmas concert. The concert ended with a brief sing-along, and something struck me as we sang the verse, "the world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing." (Shortly, we also sang "Silent Night" and its line, "all is calm, all is bright.") The image of a calm, reverent world surrounding Jesus' birth is appealing, but what if the city was busy and noisy as Jesus was born? Bethlehem had no guest rooms available, for instance, in Luke's account. What if Mary gave birth amid noises of the street beyond the stable area, and no one noticed (except the angel-guided shepherds) because too much was going on in town? What if Christ's birth was a "noisy night, holy night"?
I could make a point that a noisy, crowded Bethlehem would be in keeping with our busy, cluttered lives each December. But then I think: even the shepherds were busy! From what I've read, shepherds had many responsibilities with their flocks, including continual surveillance. The great gift was that God interrupted the shepherds' lives and helped them see and understand. We may seek to prepare ourselves spiritually during Advent, but God's initiative is still everything.
Thus, the images of "silent night" and "solemn stillness" are apt poetically: when God does something, we have to pause and catch up in amazement and relief.