‘Silence is the general consecration of the universe. Silence is the invisible laying on of the Divine Pontiff’s hands upon the world. Silence is at once the most harmless and the most awful thing in all nature. It speaks of the Reserved Forces of Fate. Silence is the only Voice of our God.” The words of Herman Melville are appropriate for the Holy Season of Christmas, which is, above all, a season of silence.

Yes, silence. To claim this seems to fly in the face of the hard evidence of the senses. For most of us, Christmas is anything but a season of silence. Since before Thanksgiving, our airwaves have been filled with commercials heralding the various gifts that we will inevitably rush about buying before the season has run its course. Christmas carols blare from our radios and from the public address systems of stores. The hustle of the crowds on subways and buses and the heightened din of tourist traffic assault us at every turn.

How can it possibly be said that Christmas is a season of silence? In the midst of the seasonal din, perhaps we would do well to stop to reflect on the nature of music. Most of us love to listen to music of one genre or other. We hear much music in the course of our days, but how often do we stop to think about the silence that makes all music possible? Whether our tastes go toward classical music, jazz, rock, rap or Gregorian chant, one feature of all music is that it cannot take place without silence.

Without the spaces between the notes, there would be no rhythm, no cadence, no counterpoint or tremolo. There would be nothing for lyrics to do. Music can take place only where there is silence behind it and around it. Music is the language that silence speaks.

So it is with “the Christmas rush.” Behind the hustle and bustle, the ring of cash registers and the jingling of bells on street corners—behind it all is a powerful intention to love which is the silence beyond and around the noise of the season. We may sometimes express it materialistically or badly or reluctantly, but underneath the pulse of the season is a latent desire to love. Beneath it all, we want to make others happy and to say, “I love you.” That is the silent intention tucked within the noise of the holiday.

There is more. When we celebrate Christmas fully and rightly, we bring ourselves back to that “Silent Night” when the Word of God quietly and without ostentation was born in a stable in Bethlehem. Reflecting upon that, we see that Melville was right—on that night, silence was the voice of God. Perhaps we prefer to hear this truth from Karl Rahner: “God’s silence, the eerie stillness, is filled by the Word without words, by Him who is above all names, by Him who is all in all. And his silence is telling us that He is here.” He is here. Above and beneath and around and throughout the din of the streets this Christmas there is the silence that lies at the heart of it all: the silence through which the Word of God slipped gently into our world and changed the course of history. He is here: the Word made flesh is in our midst drawing us back into the primordial silence that is at the very heart of being.

To hear him, we must become silent ourselves. We must remember the space between the notes of music and hear the quiet of that Holy Night at the manger. If, even for a moment this season, we can quiet ourselves in the midst of holiday comings and goings, we will hear the true meaning of Christmas. We will hear the voice of God.