The silence of Christmas

Christmas seems somber this year. I think a lot of it has to do with the pressure people feel to buy things. Commercials started early this year and stores began decking their halls with styrofoam candy canes, manufactured Christmas trees and miles and miles of tinsel on, or before, Thanksgiving. A week ago I turned on the television set and someone said they wished we only celebrated Christmas once every 3 years. She was tired of the crowds.
On the day after Thanksgiving, people lined up outside in the cold as if they were being corralled like animals to slaughter. Fights broke out and anyone with a cell phone with a camera caught it on video like voyuers at peep shows. Each day it seemed like the Spirit of Christmas was dying and people were getting more and more fed up.

Then we had government officials deciding that calling the trees in their buildings Christmas trees was unconstitutional so now they’re being referred to as holiday trees. And lastly, a school was told they can’t perform the Charlie Brown Christmas special because it contains the story of the Christ Child in it.

So when did Christmas become so tedious? When did we lose so much heart at Christmas? When does life seem so dark that the light of Christmas is almost unshineable?

Two weeks ago I left my apartment in the early morning before the sun came out. One of the first things I noticed as I stepped outside was the full moon and the shimmer of a what seemed to be a halo surrounding it. The stars were out in force and the sky looked like a black blanket with diamonds resting on it. Three lines of airplane exhaust streaked through the sky and I could only think one thought. ‘Wow’. It was beautiful. In noticing the beauty of the moment, I also noticed something else. It was quiet. It was quiet and I liked it. Generally speaking I’m not like that. I prefer the noise, the commotion. But as I stopped just for a moment to take in what I saw, I found out that I was enjoying it.

There is a Bible verse that asks its readers to do one thing in two simple words. And yet the request found in those two simple words is not easy at all. “Be still”. There is more to the verse that is as equally important but let’s just focus on those two words first. In order to be still you need to stay in one place. Immobile. Have you ever tried that? It’s not easy. While the world is moving quickly around you, you stop. And if you stop, things might get quiet. For some quiet is threatening. Uncomfortable. But there is a second half to the verse as well that tells what happens if you remain still. It says “and know that I am God.” If we remain still( and maybe even quiet) God reveals himself to us. But what does this have to do with Christmas?

In 1816 an Austrian Priest by the name of Joseph Mohr sat down and penned lyrics he wanted performed at his church on Christmas Eve. He asked a local school teacher and organist to write music for a guitarist and organist to play while the words were sung. Although it has never been proven, and is considered to be mostly a romanticized tale, the story goes that on the night that Joseph Mohr went to perform his new song the organ broke and he was forced to play the song with his guitar only. The song would become one of the most popular Christmas hymns of all time. The song: Stille Nacht or Silent Night. The lyrics:

Silent Night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

What if Christmas isn’t about caroling? What if presents is not what it’s about? What if its not about cookies or Christmas ham? What if its actually about being silent? About being still and letting Christ reveal himself?

So this Christmas when the food is being cooked and the kids are being corralled, when your ankles are swollen from standing all day and you’re ready to fall into the mashed potatoes, take some time to sit back and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. A silent night where a savior was born.