Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Quiet Before Christmas

" How silently, how silently
the wonderous gift is given", Brooks, Phillip (1867) "O Little Town of Bethlehem"

The Christmas season is drawing to a close. It seems to me that for the last few years I have had very quiet times the last couple of days before the holiday. The parties are over, business slows to a crawl and people seem to be letting out the sigh of relief that comes from a job finished and well done.That's the way Christmas should be. I realize that it is not that way for everyone, every year, but it is getting that way for most.There is a relaxation of the spirit that only this silence can bring about.Some of our most beloved Christmas Carols speak of this,"Stille nacht, Heilige nacht", "Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright".We sing those words and imagine Josef Mohr,the assistant pastor of the little church in the Austrian Alps, looking down from a high spot on his long walk home on December 23 and thinking of the words he wrote. We think of Franz Gruber, the organist at Mohr's church who had no organ to play that Christmas, but in only a day wrote the beautiful music for those words which would be played on guitar for the congregation that evening for the first time."Sleep in heavenly peace" the congregation sang.That peace which "passeth all understanding".

I always imagined the scene at the manger as quiet and cold, even the cattle and sheep quite still, the shephards standing in silent wonder.I know that this can't be true, no child birth is painless, but perhaps the labor made the moments after the birth of the child seem even more calming.For that little family, and that baby, it was the quiet not only after the storm, but before the storm to come as well. But for that night anyway,after all of the excitement, the family and the shepards and even the animals must have slept in that heavenly peace which Mohr wrote of 1800 years later, in a language the little family never knew, in a land that they did not know existed, in a future which would have been unimaginable.

I think of the Christmas truces in World War One, especiallly the first one where German and French soldiers sang carols together, ignoring their officer's commands to cease. That night, even if for only a night, the trenches were silent and no man had to sleep on his rifle. Heavenly peace.

I think of the long nights before Christmas in my childhood, where everyone except me was asleep.My excitement unabated by the quiet, in fact, perhaps enhanced by it as I looked over at my brother and listened hopefully for the sound of reindeer on our roof.

I think of the silence, leaving a church with my wife at midnight in Houston, holding a candle in my right hand and her hand in my left.I remember the chill as we walked to the car and the warmth when we got home.It was on a night like this when I heard the pastor of that church tell the beautiful story of Franz Gruber and his song.He told it every year, and I looked forward too it every year. Stille Nacht,Heilige Nacht, Silent night, Holy night.

I think of helping Santa Claus set out presents for my daughter, the most beautiful Christmas times of all. No present at Christmas is ever greater than your child's smile on Christmas morning or watching her wonder and excitement over a day which is different than all other days. That smile is the last quiet of the day, but by then your joy has overcome your need for quiet.

May you be granted this quiet before Christmas, this year and every year, and may it bring you the peace which was brought to that little family that evening as the Shepards looked on, and the Angels soared above proclaiming peace on earth for the family, and for all of us. Merry Christmas.


Blogger Paul D. Frazier said...

Thank you.
Merry Christmas to you also.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Clay said...

Merry Christmas brother.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Paul D. Frazier said...

There is something about the quiet after Christmas Day also! Here we are on the Feast of Stephen (Dec 26th, the second day of the Christmas season, it's late morning, and the house is silent!

9:51 AM  

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