Amidst the news that Christ the Messiah, the newborn king of the Jews has arrived, there is certainly a lot of excited chatter. Surrounding the birth of Jesus are noise and clamour – the busy-ness of the census dictated by Caesar Augustus – thousands were making their way back to their hometowns; Herod could not stop talking as he tried to fish from the magi the exact location of the Messiah, and in his attempt to thwart this new king, reacted in the way he knew how – violence and bloodshed. In the horrific war he waged, he left, “A voice heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation…” (Matthew 2:18).

On the surface, there appears to be a lot of noise surrounding the Saviour’s birth. We see it today as well in the hustle and bustle of Christmas cooking, the shopping of presents, the decorating of our homes and dwellings, and the mad rush to clean and spruce. Nevertheless, amidst the clangour and the pandemonium, there is an invitation to silence. It passes our notice, quietly and unobtrusively, but the silence is palpable, pregnant with possibility.

This silence is a commentary on the babble of the world. In Genesis 11: 1-9, we read of how the pride of humanity caused Mankind to build a tower that would reach the heavens, and how the LORD GOD came and saw what they were doing and scattered the peoples in their common tongue, so as to prevent them from understanding each other. It seems that from that time, a cloud of noise has covered the earth. Yet, in the coming of Jesus, a reversal seems to be happening, and a call to return to quietude rings forth. We recall Genesis 1 – “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss, and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters, and God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” (1-2). In the silence, God’s Word spoke loud and clear, and things came into being. This is echoed in John 1: 1-5 “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life and this life was the light of the human race, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The silence is a call to return to what is true and what really matters – not the chattering and complaint of humanity, but the Word of God.

We often think of Zechariah’s silence as a punishment because he doubted the words of the Angel of the Lord, but what if Zechariah’s silence was in actuality a gift? This silence was needed to help him reconcile his intellect with his heart space, and for him to experience in a powerful way an interior conversion. While we know little of Zechariah, what we do know is that Zechariah when he first meets the Angel of the Lord, and Zechariah when he witnesses the birth of John, is a very different Zechariah. The period of silence allowed Zechariah to transcend his own limits and his anxieties, his limiting beliefs of who God was, and to let the Lord God take over in the ways that are indescribable by mere human words. As Marina Berzins McCoy, professor at Boston College puts most eloquently, “Silence makes room for the fullness of God’s dynamic and healing power.” (n.d., para. 4)

Interestingly, silence in the study of Philosophy signals a concealing of the self – the ego, and the withdrawing of an individual from society. At the same time, a Christian understanding of silence, has to do with how that silence is not an economic waste of time, but in the act of contemplation, is a powerful and effective means of stripping away attitudes, prejudices, ideologies, white noise and distractions, and other mental images (Wardley, 2010)

The implications are as follows – The Lord God places a premium on silence, and this is reflected in numerous accounts of Scripture where silence is celebrated and highlighted. Wisdom 18: 14-16 says for example, “For when peaceful silence encompassed everything and the night in its swift course was half-spent, Your all-powerful word from Heaven’s royal throne leapt into the doomed land, a fierce warrior bearing the sharp sword of Your inexorable decree, and lighted, and filled every place with death, and touched heaven while standing upon the earth.” It was at the most silent moment, that the Lord God manifested the magnitude of His power. While Zephaniah 1:7 specially requests, “Silence in the presence of the Lord God! For near is the day of the Lord, yes the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests.”

Silence finds its synonym in the word “secret” or “hiddenness” according to Biblical contexts, and this is seen in the places of Scripture such as Psalm 139: 15, “My bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth.” This is reflected also in Isaiah 45:3 “I will give you treasures of darkness, riches hidden away, that you may know I am the Lord, the God of Israel who calls you by name.” The “darkness” here refers to the things that are hidden away from sight and intellect. In 1 Corinthians 2:7 – God’s wisdom is described as “mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,” and again in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, “’What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ This God has revealed to us through the spirit.”

The Greeks term this silence or stillness as hesychia (Thaylor, 1995). This hesychia is used to describe the Jerusalem Jews who fell into a state of silence or hesychia upon hearing Paul’s defence (Acts 22:2) and is the same word that Paul uses in 1 Timothy 2:11, when he describes that a woman should receive formation in hesychia or silence. This silence does not represent a mere speechlessness or loss of words, but a silence that is profound and that which causes its enactors to reflect deeply upon something. Funnily enough, this same word is also used to advise the people going about creating disorder in the community in 2 Thessalonians 3: 12 “Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.” – The word “quietly” is the same hesychia and implies that these people are not merely suppose to keep their mouths closed, but to think deeply and reflect upon what they have done and about their purpose in the community.

In sum, the more we are silent, and the more we contemplate on these hidden mysteries in the silence, the less we think or literally speak of ourselves, and the more we allow God to fill us with His Grace and what He wants us to hear instead. If we are truly attuned to what God wants to say to us interiorly in the silence, then like Zechariah we too would undergo indescribable conversion and transformation. It is as St. Augustine discovers – the more the Word who made us, dwells within us, the more the words that we have “diminish” (1994, S288, p.115). The argument that St. Augustine makes is this: “The greatest of human beings was sent, in order to bear witness to the one who is more than a human being.” (St. Augustine, 1994, S289, p.122). Nonetheless, there is a distinction between the herald, the messenger, or in the words of St. Augustine, the voice, and the Messiah- the one who is to come, the Word – “So John is the person, plays the role, of all voices. Christ is the person of the Word. All voices must necessarily diminish, when we are promoted to seeing Christ. The more, after all, you make progress toward seeing wisdom, the less need you have of a voice.” (St. Augustine, 1994, S288, p.116) The reason being, and St. Augustine uses the example of St. Paul, “For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13: 9-10; cf. St. Augustine, 1994, S288, p.115) – When the perfect Word comes, then we the voices, who are “partial” need to be silent, so as to let the perfect Word speak.

In God’s creation, if we are astute enough to observe it, a silence tends to precede something momentous that is about to happen. For example, it is an observed phenomenon that sometimes there is a calm before a storm – the world seems to go quiet, and animals cease momentarily to make their sounds. It feels as if the world is in silence and is awaiting something. This is caused by the scientific explanation of how storms need warm-moist air to fuel it, and this warm, moist air is gathered into an updraft and pulled into the storm cloud. After it is dispersed at the top, this warm, now dry air descends back to the lower altitudes, due to the vacuum created by the storm cloud. As warm, dry air is relatively stable, it stabilises the molecules in the atmosphere, causing the phenomenon that is the calm before the storm (Toothman, 2008). This calm and silence anticipate the phenomenon that is to come. It prepares us for the rainfall that is approaching. We feel the silence, we feel the first drops of rain, and we run to take shelter.

In Revelation 8:1, when the 7th seal was broken, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” This meant that something huge that would shake the heavens and the earth was about to occur, and the silence was necessary to prepare for such unprecedented eschatological happenings. Why half-an-hour? We have to remember that Heavenly time, or God’s time, is not the same as how we perceive time. This is not literally half-an-hour but means a set-apart moment of time.

Christmas, to borrow this analogy, needs a time of silence, so as to prepare for the fullness and the majesty of the Incarnation of Christ. The silence tells us that this is important – Listen to it; pay attention to it; This needs the silence of reverence. In the silence, is a herald to prepare the way for the Lord, and that silence, like Zechariah will bear fruit in a canticle of joy if we let it. As St. Mother Teresa says, “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace,” and who is Peace, but Jesus?


By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan





McCoy, M. B. (n.d.). Zechariah and Holy Silence. Ignatian Spirituality. Loyola Press. Retrieved December 22, 2022 from


St. Augustine. (1994). Sermons. The Works of St. Augustine. A Translation for the 21st century. (Trans. Hill, E.). Augustinian Heritage Institute.


Thaylor, J. (1995). Thaylor’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers. Hendrickson Academic.


Toothman, J. (2008). Is there really a calm before the storm? How Stuff Works. Retrieved December 22, 2022 from


Wardley, K. J. (2010). Learning to be silent: theological and philosophical reflections on silence and transcendence. Edinburgh Research Archive. University of Edinburgh. Retrieved December 22, 2022 from