Many of us are already sick of Christmas by the time we get to this week. We wonder if we are on the last lap of a race that we begin to think there is simply no hope of winning. The music, that we first loved to hear around Thanksgiving, has grown tired and worn us out. For those of us who have not yet secured the time to go shopping we discover that we are not alone. Traffic at the mall is awful, tempers flair, spirits dampen, some people even break down with the stress of it all. The problem is that the last minute stuff has not even begun. There is still traveling to do, meals to prepare, family to entertain, gifts to wrap, sleep to lose… and then there is the clean up afterwards!
I was recently reminded that Christmas has not always been celebrated this way. People used to take a break during this time of year. They stopped doing so many things, they slowed down, and the devout people found themselves in church considering the miracle that God showed up into this world. They would celebrate Christmas for three weeks, and in the midst of their celebrations they would ask that God would enter into their lives like God entered into history.
Perhaps that is a celebration that we need to rediscover. We have grown so accustomed to Christmas being about giving gifts, having parties, enjoying people to the point of exhaustion or worse, that we have failed to remember that Christmas is primarily a celebration about receiving. We receive a child. A little, helpless baby. Sometimes people are so worried about the giving of gifts that they forget to open the gift that God has given to them. The wonder and miracle that God enters into the world with all its sadness, and pains, and stresses, and joys, and wonders, and ups, and downs, and turns, and shocks, and… God enters into this mess and becomes “God with us!”
I was driving on the west side of town yesterday. The traffic has become tremendous for our little city. I found myself nervous as cars cut me off and people rode my tail and the person next to me was screaming because of some reason or another, and soon my stress boiled over too. One more person drove erratically and suddenly I was screaming. The radio started playing, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas…” and I quickly turned it off, because, in hindsight, I was not feeling particularly merry.
When Elijah ran from his troubles God found him and told the beleaguered prophet that he would see God’s glory. Elijah went outside and there was a great wind, but God was not in the wind. Then there was a massive earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Then there was a tremendous fire, but God was not in the fire. Then, according to the Hebrew, there was the sound of sheer silence. Nothing could be heard, and God was there.
Sometimes we simply need to slow down and consider that God still enters into our lives. This time of year is not about presents, and food, and family, and friends, and stress, and travel, although it can also be about those things. This time of year is about God becoming one of us, and it is good to sit in the silence and remember that.
At my church on Christmas Eve we will end our service by lighting candles, turning off the lights, and singing “Silent Night.” We will then leave in silence, and maybe we do that because in the midst of all the noise we take a moment to center ourselves and find that God is with us. Merry Christmas.