December 12, 2017

The Calm of Christmas

Diane Heeney

This is a busy, busy time of year. It seems we can become so inundated with “things to do, places to go, and people to see” that our spirits become disheveled and our nerves frayed. Make time in the coming weeks for the calm of Christmas. Turn off Bing Crosby and the Grinch for a while and ponder what the stillness was like on the hillside that incredible “Silent Night.”

A slight breeze brushes each face. Only the crunch of sandals can be heard as the shepherds meander among the brush, surveying the land. The quiet is almost tangible, and the night sky is alive and shimmering with stars. Their spirits sigh, lost in thought, luxuriating in the tranquility. “All is calm, all is bright… .”

Then, in an instant, there is an almost unbearable brightness! The fleecy creatures stand transfixed in fright. A staff clatters to the ground as arms flail in fear, and the men shield themselves with their rugged hands. While they are still trying to focus their eyes, a voice speaks out of the radiance:

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Weather-beaten faces are blanched but childlike; watering eyes are wide with wonder. They try to catch their breath, when …

Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

This was a sensational night! The entire glorious canopy of Heaven is filled with rapturous music such as had never before been heard. There is unspeakable beauty in the throng of angelic messengers as well as in their momentous message!

The sheep have scattered in every direction in the tumult. As the men feel their pulses returning to normal, possibly no words are even exchanged—just a trading of knowing looks as they are compelled to set off, running over the hills in the direction of a beckoning star.

In the wake of such a remarkable spectacle, are the shepherds disappointed upon their arrival at the stable? Their astonishing hillside invitation was indeed electrifying; but, by contrast, the poignancy of the peaceful scene they are about to observe is peculiarly moving in its simplicity. As the crude wooden doors creak open, they see a man, a young woman, and a newborn baby, surrounded by dusty livestock. The sweet fragrance of hay fills the earthy air. No distractions in this tranquil setting; yet the shepherds are sensible of a disquieting incongruity that leaves them pondering: Although announced with magnificent royal and celestial splendor, Christ the Lord lies in a hand-hewn feed trough. Their eyes grow moist once more, this time in contemplation. … “God is with us.”

What can we take away from this? Perhaps it is that we ought to be sure that the excitement of our holiday activity is purposeful—a means to an even more meaningful end. Maybe we are to be reminded to make time for serenity this Christmas, so the real message of the season will be allowed to gloriously outshine all of the glitzy holiday trappings of this world’s revelry. Or it could be that we simply need to look beyond the wrappings of our gifts—because we might never, in our wildest dreams, imagine the love that might be inside.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Diane Heeney serves with her husband who is the pastor of a small church in Farson, Wyoming.

(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2007. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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