|Photo by Taber Andrew Bain|
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv'n
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav'n.
The mind-numbing, unending playlist of bad "holiday" music that I listen to while working at Subway is just one reminder that in our culture, we like a noisy Christmas. Then there are the Target commercials boasting colorful, sensory-overload parties; the endless lines of chattering people in stores; the traffic crawling along brightly lit-up downtown areas; the new movies and all the special holiday episodes of your favorite TV show.
It's not that (good) music, laughter, and cheery gatherings aren't wonderful things.
It's just we can't forget to listen also for that silent, wondrous gift; the night wind whispering to the little lamb, the gentle lullaby, the often hard-to-notice truth that God is here on earth, with us.
And God is here so silently. Isn't that clear especially this month? Hasn't God been awfully silent in responding to the tragedy of Sandy Hook? Silent about the 301 American soldiers who died in Afghanistan this year or the over 1000 Afghan civilians. Silent in responding to all the slow but nagging sorrows that drag us down, the secret shames and fears we carry like rocks. Slow to provide answers: how can we prevent this gun violence? How can we end this war? How can we fix our relationships? And why, why, why?
There was a point in my life where the Christmas story was almost too fantastical to believe. Because God comes so silently to us it's almost impossible to detect. God came silently that first Christmas, as a baby in a tiny town in the midst of a raging empire, in the midst of the killing of many innocent children. And God didn't stop it. God comes now, in the midst of our wars and failures, to quietly be with us. God doesn't stop them. Sometimes I don't know why.
Unlike bad Christmas music, retail stores and bright lights, God won't force Godself on us. We are free to reject, or to decide the sorrow is too heavy, or simply to ignore. We are free to carry on our clanging hatred. But God's love is still there, still constant, still present to those who practice listening. Remember the bell in The Polar Express? We learn over time not to hear the quiet ringing of God's presence. But sometimes, by grace, we are able to hear it again.
O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.