The Silent Night Gospel

The Silent Night Gospel December 6, 2023
Live Nativity 2023, B. Green

The Value of Silence


I have heard it said, “If you want to get someone’s attention–whisper.” I have also heard St. Francis of Assisi quoted thus: “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” Ecclesiastes 3:7B says that there is a “time to keep silence and a time to speak,” and in Psalm 46:10He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’” There obviously is value in the silent. When coupled with the holy, it creates a doorway to revelation, to peace, and to hearing the voice of God–what I call “the Silent Night Gospel.”


The Silent Night Gospel

I have a very easy and effective way to preach about the coming of Christ into the world. Every year in December, I enlist students to help me stage a live Nativity in a public place. It’s not a play. It is our Silent Night Gospel.


No one has to say a thing, although there is usually music playing in the background (more than anything, to drown out city noise). The students dress in costume and portray the shepherds, angels, kings, Mary, and Joseph. They walk to the canopy we have set up with lights and a manger, and pose there in reverence for the king who came to live, teach, die, and be raised again to life so that we might be redeemed. 

It’s important to note that we don’t accept donations, we don’t publicize the school, and we don’t seek any recognition.

Why Do It?

Yes, there are sculpted figures that can sit outside and do the same thing, but the element of realism–people who move into different postures and positions, cough, and sneeze, clothing that blows in the breeze, even live animals who chew the hay and poop–strikes a chord in many hearts of people who drive by or who come to the sidewalk for prayer or meditation. Most of us need a little Silent Night Gospel these days.


This time of year, many people find themselves racing home from their jobs to face holiday pressures while also dealing with the reality of rising prices, events overseas, covid, and the troubles of our world, without taking a moment to reflect on the meaning of the Christmas season. Each year, our one intent and purpose in staging our live nativity is to gently reach out to the people driving by and to give them a reminder– a “moment” of peace that can only come from the realization that the story is true:


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome  it … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5, 14).


There is so much awe and wonder in the thought, if one takes the time to think about it!

Live Nativity 2021, B. Green

The 5 Ps

I had a principal once who always talked to us about the 5 Ps: “Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” He was a very experienced educator, administrator, and coach, so I figure he knew what he was talking about. In the natural, the Silent Night Gospel is not a difficult thing to do. I have carried most of the same costumes around with me for 20 years or more. The only real addition is a canopy and some hay. Getting permission in advance and in writing to use the place is pretty important.

The real and most important preparation is in the spirit: pray, pray, pray. Pray with the students who intend to participate. Pray for the individuals who will be walking or driving by. Pray to be the vessels that God can use to work His miracles in His way. So maybe that’s a 6th P: Prior Prayerful Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!


Unpredictable is Real

Staging is easy, and it can be as simple or as ornate as you desire; however, there are many factors that can not be controlled. The Silent Night Gospel is not predictable. Once in a while there are ugly remarks shouted from passing cars. I tell the students ahead of time that it may happen and not to retaliate, but to pray for the people in the car. More than people’s reactions, the weather is not predictable. On several occasions we’ve had snow. Snow! It really leant to the beauty of the moment, and blessedly we had no complications, but roads can turn slippery. Then there were times when it was extremely cold and we had shepherds in puffy coats and angels in ear muffs. Several times, it rained.

I remember particularly one night when the rain started early and continued all evening. We were walking down a portion of the street to the church steps, first Mary and Joseph led by an angel, then more angels, then shepherds, then wise men. We were doing the walk every 30 minutes. The last cycle was about to start, and the wind was blowing and it was cold. The thought occurred that no one was going to pay us any attention on a night like that anyway. Yet, we went ahead and did it. Two men stood at the bottom of the church steps and watched as each student took his/her place at the manger and the music played. The rain fell, and still the men stood and watched until the 30 minutes were up and I turned out the spotlight. 

As I began to clean up hay and put things away for the night, I spoke to the men. They approached me and said … I’ll never forget it … they said, “God bless you for doing this. We’re staying in the shelter down the street. This will be the most beautiful part of our Christmas. It seemed so real.” I expressed my gratitude and prayed with them, and they went on their way without any pomp, but I felt like God had given me a little glimpse, and that what we did really mattered.

Yes, it can be unpredictable, but so is God–mightily, awesomely, lovingly unpredictable!

The Silent Night Gospel Will Preach

Christians are commanded to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” The Silent Night Gospel will “preach,” no words necessary. You can quietly give the greatest Christmas present of all to people who just happen to drive by–the truth that Jesus loves them, and that He loves them so much that He left His perfect home in eternity to walk on this planet and make a way for them to be with Him.

God bless you, and may you “preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”


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