Quiet as a Whisper

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
[Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7]

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Agostino Masucci, The Adoration of the Shepherds, black chalk with brown ink and wash on laid paper, Joseph F. McCrindle Collection.

When I entered high school, I “tested into” the honors section of Algebra I, and therefore was placed in the class of the legendary Miss Leigh. (No one ever would have dared inquire about her first name; we may have even thought she didn’t have one!)

Miss Leigh had taught honors algebra at the school for decades. She was white-headed, less than five feet tall, and always spoke with a whisper: at her desk, at the blackboard, in the rare times we saw her in the hallway. She was demanding as well, requiring us on our homework problems and exams to write out every step of the algebra problem and grading us on the correctness of the steps as much as on the correctness of the answer.

But it was the whisper which made her most legendary. Because she whispered, we had to be quiet in class, lean forward in our seats, pay absolute attention in order to be able to learn. And we did. We listened and learned well – to and from her whisper.

I think of Miss Leigh on Christmas Eve because during a season in which there is so little whispering, in a world in which the shout has become the norm and the endless expression of sound the music by which we live, the birth of the Messiah is quiet, quiet as a whisper. “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us…” It is a whisper – almost silent – on the most silent of nights. And as in Miss Leigh’s Algebra Class, we lean forward in our seats, pay attention, so we can hear, and learn.

I remain grateful for the whisper of Miss Leigh, and all she taught me. I am grateful for the whisper of the Incarnation, and the ways the One Incarnate has redeemed me and redeemed the human race. I am grateful that in the presence of Christ, all we can do is lean forward and listen.

“Silent Night” by Franz Xaver Gruber
Performed by Adam Rafferty

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