"Give them not Hell, but

Hope and Courage."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Silent Night, Holy Night (Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24, 2011)

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:18-19)

Mary “pondered them in her heart”. She pondered what she had just seen, and heard, and experienced.

She didn’t join in the general brouhaha about this “big event” that had overtaken the little town of Bethlehem. She didn’t sell her story to the tabloids, and blare it all over the world. She didn’t tweet about it to all her friends, or post a status update about it on her Facebook page. She didn’t write a sermon analyzing what had happened, or write a poem about it, or draft a flow chart to organize and control the whole situation.

She didn’t just think about it, either, up in her head. She pondered it. In her heart.

She took the whole state of affairs into her very being, and she let it speak to her there. She remained still and quiet—quiet enough to hear what that holy night had to say to her.

Perhaps this is the best way we celebrate Christmas (and, unfortunately, probably the least likely): by pondering its deeper meanings in our hearts.

“Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness,” Meister Eckhart once said.

 And T.S. Eliot once wrote:

I said to my soul, be still,
and let the dark come upon you
which shall be the darkness of God.

“Be still, and know that I am God,” the Psalmist commands us. And a Unitarian minister in Wayland, Massachusetts, many centuries later wrote: “O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing!”

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given,
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.

The holiest gift of Christmas comes not in grand or ostentatious gesture (though there is much to love in the way we celebrate Christmas that is grand and ostentatious). It doesn’t arrive with the Boston Pops playing in the background, or with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Alleluia!” at full throttle (though the allelulias add much to the splendor and magnificence of Christmas, too).

But tonight, on Christmas Eve, when all the hubbub has died down, and the last mall parking space has finally been found and fought over, and we’ve found the last stamp to send out that last Christmas card, and that last gift has (finally) been bought and wrapped and placed under the tree (maybe not paid for yet; that’s a January sermon, perhaps)—then the splendor and magnificence (and the noise and bother and tiredness and excess, which are their evil siblings) can retreat; they can go up to bed. Then quiet can come upon us, and the darkness can descend, and we are left alone at last with all that we have seen and heard. May we, too, like Mary—after the Wise Men had finally left, and after the shepherds had finally gone home, and Joseph had nodded off to sleep, and she was all alone, at last, with her babe in arms—may we, too, have the wisdom then to be still, to be silent, and to ponder the miracle of Christmas in our hearts.

And If we are still enough—silent enough on this holy night—and if our hearts are open enough, and clear of our addictions and afflictions, and agendas and egos—then we may yet hear the song of the angels that God has sent our way, and hear their glad tidings of great joy.

Christmas Eve is the great convergence—the holy vortex between our hopes and fears—between hope and history-- between heaven and earth. It represents life’s most profound moment, when God’s hand touches the humble stable at Bethlehem, and God’s love illuminates itself fully in the heart and the life of the great man of Nazareth. It is the holy night, the night of consecration. The night, in the Christian tradition, when God became man.

Of course, even when Christmas finally arrives, and then leaves again, much will remain as it has been. The outward appearance of our lives might seem unchanged by Christmas. The world won’t really seem so different. We will all still have our own problems to face. There will still be Iran and North Korea to deal with. There will still be people without work, and without food, and without hope. Words like “tyranny” and “terrorism” and “greed” and “graft” will not have been sponged from the dictionary—or from our human hearts.

In the unspeakable cruelty of Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl tells us, frozen, exhausted, starving prisoners would rush outside every evening, just to marvel silently at the beauty of the sunset. One day, one of them finally whispered to the others, “How beautiful the world could be.”

Christmas is our divine reminder of the beauty—and the innocence—and the joy and the justice that are inherent in this creation. If we leave a space—in our stillness, in our silence—for the love of Christmas to enter our hearts, then it can begin to work its miracle there. And slowly, steadily, that love can grow—from one soul to another—like the light of shared candles—until the world is made a little brighter (and a little warmer) by our having been here.

Then every night will be Christmas Eve.

And every child will be the Christ Child.

And we will see all creation, at last, as the holy shrine it truly is. And we will treat one another as the children of God we truly are.

Then God will truly be born among us. As citizens of this world, we, too, will bring light to places of deepest darkness. And we will begin at last the work, in history, in our very lives, of transforming the face of the world in an image of Love.  

A blessed Christmas to you all.

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