Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ In the Christmas Stillness
In the Christmas stillness, there is hurry.
In the Christmas stillness, there is distraction.
In the Christmas stillness, there is worry.
It is tempting to say, “In the Christmas hurry, there is stillness; in the Christmas distraction, there is stillness; in the Christmas worry, there is stillness.” We wish to take people from their likely experience – bustle, activity, news reports, fear, concern – and remind them of deep, quiet peace.
Yet that order is backward, because Christmas stillness is the underlying reality; all else is dispensable. Hurry, distraction, and worry may seem like the reality through which we approach a hay-filled manger, attempting to drag along our dawdling, freshly-bathed minds in their best new Christmas clothes, lining up our thoughts in front of Mary and Joseph for a meaningful Christmas photo that will remind us later of What’s Really Important in Life.
Or even if we approach Christmas through a lens of gritty realism – the contractions of a young woman, afterbirth on the floor of a cave, a crying, hungry member of the Trinity nursing a few feet away from farm animals, interruptions by a bunch of men claiming to have seen angels a few hilltops over while they were out with their sheep – we can ignore the deep well of stillness that abides in the Incarnation.
Christmas stillness isn’t rosy sentiment: “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” It isn’t pious sermonizing about the reason for the season while the turkey grows cold and little eyes urgently scan a hill of presents for their names.
Christmas stillness is the Real, and hurry, distraction, and worry are lying imposters tricking our senses into believing that our immediate experiences are the only genuine reality from which we attempt to operate. Hurry, distraction, and worry slyly whisper to us that we are indispensable; that we should quickly react to the “tyranny of the urgent;” that the Word Made Flesh is something we can successfully attempt to control for the ends that we want. These imposters tell us that mindfulness and slowness are inadequate (or even lazy); that focus and vision are unrealistic; and that peace comes from a completed to-do list or a five-minute devotional squeezed in while we’re stuck in traffic.
The days between Christmas and New Year’s Day may hold urgent care visits for inconvenient flu; they may include church services or watchnight vigils; they may hold travel, overdrawn bank accounts, long work days, or visits to a jail or prison; they may include tense exchanges of children with an ex-spouse, or overdoses, or depressed hours of loneliness and despair. And while some Protestant denominations mark the 12 days of Christmas (not the song) stretching from Christmas Day to the Feast of Epiphany which marks the arrival of the magi, others may schedule only a Christmas Eve service with thin hopes for church attendance around the holidays. But the days between Christmas and New Year’s or Christmas and Epiphany a few days later – these days are an opportunity, not just for visiting family or corralling school children on break, but for sinking into Christmas stillness and retraining our thoughts to see hurry, distraction, and worry as the lying, conniving King Herods of our hours and days, bent on doing what we wish to Jesus Christ – anything rather than submitting to and worshiping him.
Christmas stillness doesn’t come from respite stolen while kids are distracted by a new toy (though it can be found there under the surface). Christmas stillness is deep, underlying peace that bookends our days, whether they are good or bad, joyful or tragic. It is captured in words like Job’s: “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away: blessed be the name of the Lord.” It is captured in poetry like the words of Isaiah,
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.
Christmas stillness cleaves discouraged deception in half when old Simeon, guided by the Spirit, comes to the Temple and lays eyes on the Consolation of Israel – all six or seven pounds of him.
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
Christmas stillness delves deep into the soul when elderly prophet Anna fulfills her long years at the temple by seeing a small newborn and recognizing the Kingdom of God in her midst, beginning to, “praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Are you walking aware that the steps you took in darkness are now flooded in great light? Are you dismissed from the long days of your life in peace, having seen the salvation of God? Are you making decisions based on the near reality of Jesus Christ, Prince, not of building a name for himself or an army for himself or a global economy for himself, but of – Peace? That “peace that transcends all understanding”? (One might say, peace that surpasses common sense.)
Watching and searching for the Consolation of Israel is activity that flows quietly from Christmas stillness. Being distracted by the goodness of God that brought light into the world flows quietly from Christmas stillness. Making the choice to submit to God who gives and God who takes away – as Mary did when an angel appeared to her as a personified, supernatural positive pregnancy test, and as Mary did, when her little boy was betrayed and beaten up and publicly executed – this flows quietly from Christmas stillness.
Are you ready to let stillness interrupt your hurry, distraction, and worry? Are you ready to let Christmas stillness define your self-imposed frenzy, your to-do list, your temporary and long-term fears? Are you ready to let deep, abiding stillness define the curves of your day? Are you ready to let the steady heartbeat of the innermost Trinity quiet your cries, your protests, your words? Are you ready to become like a peaceful, satisfied baby against its mother’s chest, contented and soothed?
Are you ready to let stillness resound?