Christmas is a time of the year when we happily anticipate the return of our seasonal “favorites” — our favorite tree ornament, our favorite Christmas cookie, our favorite Christmas movie or our favorite Christmas carol.
Let me see: I believe my favorite tree ornament is a small, very old glass Santa Claus that was made in Germany before World War II. It reminds me of my childhood Christmases. My favorite cookie is the one nearest me!
My favorite Christmas movie is also one of my favorite movies of all time: Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” I’ve lost track of how many times I have watched it through my life. I have seen all the newer versions, but my favorite remains the original black-and-white version with Alastair Sim.
My favorite carol is “O Little Town of Bethlehem” because the words touch my heart with the true spirit of the season. The mood throughout this lovely carol is one of peace.
“O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!”
Through the roar of our busy lives comes the appealing call of a silent night long ago when the most remarkable event of all time occurred in an unremarkable place. Into a land under foreign occupation came a child of hope.
“How silently, how silently, The wondrous gift is given.”
The lyrics’ emphasis on stillness and quiet contrasts sharply with the absence of those qualities in our world today.
Our culture seems to abhor silence. It represents a vacuum that must be filled. What thoughts might we think if someone wasn’t telling us from the television or radio what we ought to think? How differently might we feel about our fellow humans if we were not absorbing the uncivil discourse that pours into our ears from the airwaves?
From the monstrous attack on the World Trade Center to the reckless motorist who imperils our lives on the highway with their carelessness, we find ourselves numbed by disbelief at such callous disregard for human life.
“So God imparts to human hearts, The blessing of His heaven.”
When the world has stepped on us pretty hard, some might think, “Well, I sure haven’t seen much of those ‘blessings of His heaven’ lately!” And indeed, many Oregonians haven’t in quite a while — depending on what one means by “blessings.”
What did God “impart” that night in Bethlehem? God gave us the opportunity for a major overhaul of our hearts.
“Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
The prerequisite is meekness. That’s not exactly the most sought-after of character qualities, is it? To be “meek” sounds dangerously close to being a “wimp.”
Ah, but wait! There is a blessing, a Beatitude, for the meek. “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5. That’s quite a promise!
The light that pierced the darkness of a Bethlehem night announced the reversal of history. The greatest empire on the earth held its boot to Israel’s neck and laughed at Jewish piety. But the time of Roman trust in military might and a disciplined state was about to give way to corruption and disintegration.
From the skies over Bethlehem that night, a gathering of angels heralded the news that a new order had been ushered in and most improbably, was lying small and vulnerable in an animal feeding trough.
“We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell.”
How could such an astonishing event have occurred in such an innocuous manner? How could anyone take seriously the claim that the Creator of the universe had suddenly appeared on earth as a helpless child?
Wouldn’t the reversal of human history be accompanied by visual displays of massive power? Something volcanic? Something loud to grab our attention? If the change in human existence was to be imposed from the outside in, then pyrotechnics might have been a good choice.
But God came to us, as one of us, to reverse the course of history and to restore the covenant between God and humans from the inside-out. For this purpose, silence and meekness will do very well.
“O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!”
The literal meaning of the word, “Emmanuel” is “God with us.” The “blessings of His Heaven” are the equipping presence of Emmanuel in our lives, even when we are not consciously aware of it or take time to notice it, speak to it, or adore it.
The dear Christ will enter in to a meek heart and bring the peace that only God can give us.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” John 14:27. It sure seems as though the world could use a lot more peace and quiet.
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.”
There are many “dark streets” throughout the world. Some of the “darkest” are ones where the neon lights glow the brightest. Many are dark with poverty, sickness, loneliness and despair. Their inhabitants can’t see the “everlasting light” any more than most of the folks of Bethlehem could that night so long ago.
Those of us who love the Light are to carry it into the dark streets. It is good to sing about it at Christmas but it is even better to embody it throughout the year.
The Good News is very, very good news indeed: a new start with a new heart! It is called a “rebirth” because the life that allows Christ to enter in is “reborn” and becomes part of the reversal of history.
No more do nice guys finish last. That ended at Calvary. Let your prayer this Christmas be this line from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:
“Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today.”
— Deborah Blair moved to The Dalles in 2000 to become the assistant minister at the Gateway Presbyterian Church.