Saturday, December 12, 2009
My sixteenth devotion at Bethany... amid all the Christmas joy and sugarplum fairies and stuff, sometimes it's good to remember that for some Christmas brings pain and loss of their loved ones, and it is good to stand with them during this time and support them. What is the spirit of Christmas, the true spirit?
Matthew 1.32b “…‘and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’”
The spirit of Christmas is found in stillness.
In Oberndorf, Austria, there is a church named Nicola-Kirche (the Church of Saint Nicholas). 24 December 1818, the pastor, Rev. Josef Mohr, and the head musician, Franz Gruber, realized that the organ was no longer working, apparently, the bellows had been eaten through by mice. The bellows are essential to the organ because it keeps the air pressure at a steady rate, which allows for the movement of air through the pipes. In other words, holes in the bellows meant no music. So, Mohr went to his study, grabbed a poem he had written some time earlier, and had Gruber compose it to music. The Christmas service that night was played solely on guitar, with this one new song not being played masterfully on the grand organ, but instead on the quiet strings of the guitar. The song was, of course, “Stille Nacht,” or “Silent Night” as we know it.
Of course, the whole organ story is legend, no one knows for sure anymore the particular motivation for this song being written on guitar instead of the organ, but I think it is a likely story. And, even if the story is false, it still holds the beauty of Christmas, the beauty of simplicity.
Certain churches have the tradition of, during “Silent Night,” having a candle lighting where all the lights are turned off, sometimes even the organ will go silent, and you’ll just hear the voices of those around you singing the words “Silent night, holy night/ all is calm, all is bright,” where the good singers and the bad singers are drowned out by the music of the people around you, and you hold you light close to the book so you can attempt to read the words in the darkness, trying not to catch it on fire where kids fight behind you, trying to purposefully catch each other on fire.
There is something about the faith expression there, something in it, that our culture’s rushed, hurried, and perfectionist view of Christmas has never quite captured. Regardless of what your faith is, the simplicity carries forth the faith. Even those who do not believe sing the words, relying on the belief of others to fill their hearts and minds, knowing that when, not if, they return to belief, the others will return the favor.
Christmas spirit comes in the silence. It comes when you’re completely exhausted and sit down for the first time in what feels like days and you just are quiet. Pensive. Peaceful. It is the long needed rest for the weary.
Christmas is also in the expecting. The Advent which proceeds Christmas. The long awaiting of something… that knowing that something better is yet to come. That is the Christmas spirit. It is silence. It is expectance. It is rest. It is peace. It is not doing for once.
I remember how my brother, sister, and I used to sing together in three part harmony, standing next to each other in the pews on Christmas Eve. The music was glorious. My brother, sister, and I even made homemade recordings of us, me on piano, my sister on flute, and my brother on cello or guitar, and then we gave those out to family members for Christmas.
My brother passed away unexpectedly two years ago at the age of eighteen. And the hardest time of the year consistently is Christmas, where all the joyous family traditions we had—the singing together in a pew on Christmas Eve, the playing our instruments together, decorating trees, all of that is different. Christmas can be a very joyous time for many. But for those who have lost loved ones, Christmas may be a heavy-hearted time.
When I miss my brother this season, I cannot help but think of that first night that “Silent Night” was sung, just the simple guitar. Christmas is about family and love, true, but sometimes I feel more Christmas “spirit” when I’m alone, maybe just decorating my little apartment, humming a Christmas carol to myself. I feel it in the absence of Justin. Where he is no longer with us. I feel that. And I feel the Christmas spirit in his absence. The knowing that he’s gone now, but something better is yet to come. Peace of mind? A harmony that is now only the sound of one voice, united, sad, but peaceful? A voice that begins in silence before the first note even begins. That has silence in the spaces between each note, each phrase. That silent night where a nation heavy with mourning, under foreign occupation, had all their dreams realized in a tiny, little child born in the most humblest of places, a lowly cattle stall. That is where the Christmas spirit lies.
Let us pray.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe. Be with us this advent season, help us prepare for the advent of your reign, an advent realized in the birth of our king in lowly and humble attire. Be with us, we pray, in the name of your son, whose name is a promise in itself: Emmanuel, God is with us.
Let us pray the prayer your son taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.