By Rev. Ben Black
In the blink of an eye Christmas is over. For whatever reason, it always surprises me. I spend weeks planning for Christmas and no sooner is the house cleaned, the gifts bought and wrapped, and the food prepared that I realize Christmas is once again in the rearview mirror and New Year’s Day is on my doorstep. Have you experienced this phenomenon? It seems like the more time I spend in preparation and anticipation the faster it darts by.
The day after Christmas always feels so anticlimactic. Sure, we might have another family get together or two … but they are usually shoehorned in around our increasingly busy schedules that have sprung back to life. The end result is that I am left feeling tired as the New Year dawns.
The month of December is so jammed with Christmas festivities that it becomes a marathon. Don’t get me wrong—I love Christmas and the extra opportunities to worship and fellowship with loved ones that it provides, but more often than not I find myself looking back on it with a sense of regret, as if I missed something. More often than not, I have. This year it smacked me in the face in the middle of our Christmas Eve service.
The lights in the church sanctuary were off and the golden glow of candlelight filled the room. A couple of acoustic guitars led the way as our voices joined in singing carols together. Our final hymn of the evening was Silent Night. After singing through the three verses, the guitars stopped and I began to take my first step towards the center of the sanctuary to offer the benediction. I was stopped short as one quiet voice sung out the first verse again, but a capella. The guitars did not join in but shortly a few other voices did. In the dim light of the burning candles the hall was filled with the pure sound of unaccompanied voices singing:
“Silent Night, Holy Night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin, Mother and child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace”
I realized in that moment, that in the chaos of my Christmas planning and even leading worship on Christmas Eve, I had neglected the peace and the quiet of the manger. Silent Night’s lyrics spoke of the calmness and peace of that first Christmas and their message reverberated in my head. How I had a missed such a fundamental part of Christmas?
The answer: I had gotten so busy doing Christmas that I was blinded to the peace of Christmas. Fortunately, the peace that we celebrate on Christmas of God entering this world to transform hearts and lives does not end when the clock strikes midnight to draw Christmas Day to a close. Christmas is an opportunity to reflect on and be shaped by God’s transformational love, but unfortunately it is an opportunity that is all too often missed. I would like to remind you that even though Christmas Day has drawn to a close and passed for this year, the reality of Christmas is still very much alive and well.
Be intentional through the New Year to reflect on your blessings, spend meaningful time with loved ones and look for ways to break away from the rat-race. Make time to be still and appreciate what God is doing in your life. If we fail to recognize God in our daily lives, we will find ourselves restless and tired. Holidays can be darting things that leave peace perpetually beyond our grasp. Instead, remember that Christ is Immanuel, God with us, and has arrived bringing peace by the Holy Spirit. May we allow the reality of Christ to transform every night into a Silent Night that remembers a savior born to us promising hope and peace.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"
The Rev. Ben Black is pastor of Forest Hills Presbyterian Church.