Saturday, January 17, 2015

Silent Night, Holy Night

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, December 24, 2002

“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 email the news to all her friends. She didn’t write a sermon analyzing what had happened, or write a poem about it, or draft a flow chart to organize 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.
“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 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 holy gift of Christmas is not given in grand or ostentatious gesture (though there is much to love in 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 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 the last gift has (finally) been bought and wrapped and placed under the tree (maybe not paid for yet; we’ll save that for later)—then the splendor and magnificence (and the noise and bother and excess) can retreat (at least for a while), and the quiet can come upon us, and the darkness 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 baby, Jesus—may we, too, have the wisdom then to be still, to be silent, and to ponder the miracle of Christmas in our hearts.
In the midst of all of our celebrations and busy-ness—in the midst of all our rushing to and fro over the face of the world to get everything done, and get it done perfectly—on Christmas Eve, we pause—with silence and darkness as cherished friends—with faith, hope, and love as unseen guests-- and we ponder the mystery and wonder at the heart of creation, and the workings of grace within the living of our lives. If we are still enough—silent enough—and if our hearts are open enough—we may hear there the song of the angels, and their glad tidings of great joy.
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
Christmas Eve is the great convergence—the holy vortex between our hopes and fears—between heaven and earth. It is the most profound moment, when God’s hand touches the humble stable at Bethlehem, and God’s love illuminates itself fully in the heart of the great man of Nazareth.
On Christmas Eve, we stand on the threshold of anticipation and expectation, our hearts gladdened with the hopes of what tomorrow might bring. Perhaps the new dawn will bring peace and goodwill among all people of the world. Perhaps tomorrow will bring justice. Perhaps tomorrow will bring joy.
Christmas bears witness to our abiding faith that each morning God reenacts the miracle of Creation—and that this day can be the one that changes everything. Christmas bears witness to the ageless hope that this can be the day when the world makes the Great Turning—when it experiences the great change of heart—the metanoia—toward goodness and mercy and peace. On Christmas, we pray that tomorrow, truly, can dawn in an entirely new way.
But even when Christmas arrives, of course, much will remain as it has been. At dawn tomorrow—Christmas—there will still be Iraq and North Korea to deal with; there will still be recession and Enron. Words like “tyranny’ and “terrorism” and “greed” and “graft” will not have been sponged from the dictionary—or from our human hearts.
But 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—one by one—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.
A blessed Christmas to you all. Amen.

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