A popular Christmas song tells us that, when the bustle of Santa’s big day, with the busy sidewalks and the children laughing and the snow crunching, makes its assault, we should listen for the soothing silver bells . I love those busy sidewalks and the children laughing and the snow crunching and all the activity that the season demands. Yet, traditionally, Advent is a time of silent waiting, of reflecting and fasting, of anticipating the Messiah.
Where do we find time for silence and stillness?
There is no busier time in the calendar than that of Christmas time. If you are a teacher or a student, the end of the semester causes universal stress and weariness; and excitement too, of course, with the parties and concerts and anticipation of Christmas break! If you are a mother you have that daunting task of providing Christmas for the entire family: shopping, wrapping, cooking, baking, hosting, decorating — the desire to create lovely traditions and memories that will accompany our children into adulthood. It can be exhausting to the point that we might sadly dread the start of the season and have our eyes set on the month of January when all the stuff gets put away in the bins marked “Christmas.”
So we need to find space in our lives, our homes, and our hearts to reflect, and to silently listen to Him speak to us. One way to enjoy this silence and reflection is through reading particular scriptures or devotional books. The short days and long evenings and the cozy light thrown by the Christmas lights or the fireplace (many such photos are displayed on social media) make us want to curl up with tea and a good book. But in all the activity, we get distracted and so this has to be intentional.
At Christmas time, 1982, in Oak Park, Illinois, I went for a walk with my friend (whom I later married) to admire the decorations, duck into a quaint candy store, and check out the local Christian bookstore. At the bookstore, I found a slim volume of poems called Listen to the Green, by Luci Shaw. The beauty of the poetry spoke to me, so I purchased it for $2.95. Now it is dog-eared and stained and underlined and falls open to my favorite Christmas poem.
Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallento my arms. (Rest…
you who have had sofarto come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by doves’ voices, the whisper of straw,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
The images expressed in this poem have been precious through the 35 years since the day we took that walk. The years when we had a newborn or nearly newborn infant (one of whom let me know his appearance would be imminent during Christmas dinner), “Mary’s Song” was particularly poignant and precious. Mary’s image was vivid: a young, tired, perhaps lonely mother, in blue homespun cradling this miracle baby in a cave, and yet with a Grace-given sense of peace and calm, marveling at what had just happened and wondering how the future would be fulfilled.
Other years it was the last few lines that I would focus on: caught that I might be free, blind in my womb to know my darkness ended. We are broken, all in need of grace and healing. How humbling to think that Mary was conscious of her own darkness, her need to be mended, and the knowledge that this child would provide the remedy!
Other years, the description of the incarnation captured me: Older than eternity, now He is new. God became man, a baby in fact! Is there any way to grasp this or express it apart from poetry?
This year, as suggested above, my theme is that of silence: quiet he lies whose vigor hurled a universe…he sleeps…he dreams. The story of Jesus’ birth was preceded by 400 years of silence since the last call of the prophets to repent and to look for the coming of the Messiah. Zachariah was made silent by the angel Gabriel when he asked for a sign. Elizabeth hid herself away quietly for five months waiting for the arrival of the forerunner of Christ. On the night when Jesus was born, the angels were praising God, but no doubt, the shepherds and anyone else in attendance were silent, for any words would fail them.
And Mary treasured within her heart the greatest secret ever told! After the angel Gabriel left her, did she run next door to excitedly tell her best friend? Did she confide in her mother? Who could she tell? Who would believe her anyway? How could Mary possibly explain what she only knew to be a mystery? Too precious and too holy for words, the only right response was to marvel and ponder and prayerfully accept and wait.
And so Mary kept silent with patience, wisdom, faith, and hope. She waited, as we wait, for Him to come to us with healing, forgiveness, and peace.
This is the season to seek Him as did the wise men, coming to Him with the gift of ourselves, our hearts in prayerful adoration and our anticipation that indeed, Christ will come to us.
When Mary arrived at her cousin Elizabeth’s house, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit declared, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . .”
Imagine Mary’s joy! She didn’t have to explain herself or her situation. Elizabeth confirmed what she knew to be true. Free to speak of her experience and her heart, she sang the beautiful Magnificat, inspired by the song of Hannah, and evidence of Mary’s knowledge of the scripture and her own skill with language.
Mary’s heart overflowed with praise as ours will when we encounter the Saviour of our souls, the Lover of mankind. Our prayerful silence will be turned to joyful song.