Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Christmas Silence by Martin Wiles
The birth of God’s Son came amidst outside noise. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. (Luke 2:7 NLT)
Mary received a disturbing angelic message saying she would birth the Messiah. She shivered at the thought of the ridicule and possible religious consequences ahead. She and her fiancé weren’t married. How would it look when her pregnancy became increasingly obvious to others? What would they say? Would she have to leave town? All questions that competed with her other thoughts. The angel’s words were exciting yet alarming.
And Joseph. What would he think? That she had been unfaithful to him even before they were married. Would he shelve the wedding? Give her a dreaded certificate of divorce? Fortunately an angel had also appeared to him and explained God’s plan. Though reluctant at first to believe what he heard, he ultimately accepted her destiny—and his, with all the perceived complications.
Now the Roman emperor—the “Exalted” one, had issued a registration decree for tax and military purposes. Though her people weren’t required to serve in the Roman army, they were taxed mercilessly. The order required everyone to return to their hometown. As descendents of King David, this meant a long and arduous 80 mile trip to Bethlehem. They wouldn’t be alone, and perhaps because of the crowd they could join a caravan to make better time. Then there was the region of Samaria. Should they risk traveling this dangerous route or ford the Jordan and bypass it?
Mary didn’t relish the idea of the journey. The months had passed quickly, and the day of her son’s birth was nigh at hand. In fact, it could occur any day. Neither striding a donkey, riding a cart, nor walking barefoot over the rocky path leading to Bethlehem interested her in the least. But she had no choice.
Before they pierced the town gates, Mary and Joseph could see thousands of people milling about. They too were there for the registration. Smoke circled around the tiny village and wafted over the surrounding hillsides. People were pushing and shoving as they tried to make their way to the registration center. This conglomeration of people would never be listed in one day. She and Joseph would have to request lodging.
Every inn was full. Even those accepting strangers into their homes had no room. Place after place, they received the same answer, “We’re full.” Finally, one innkeeper—after he had repeated the same line, told them of a nearby manger where they might find lodging. Mary’s birth pains were increasing. They had to find a place soon. As Mary approached the cave’s entrance, the smells repulsed her. What little she could grasp in the dark surroundings exposed cow and donkey dung sprinkled about and mixed with hay. In the corner—the only place to lay her child, was a small ledge sliced into the stone wall.
Mary knew the time had arrived. She slouched in the foul-smelling hay, and though the crowd was shouting and pounding about on the outside, she delivered her firstborn child in Christmas silence. None were the wiser that she had birthed the long awaited Messiah. His gentle sighs and puckering lips were all she and Joseph perceived.
Beginning with Thanksgiving and extending until Christmas Day, the holiday season can be extremely taxing. I’ve experienced years when I dreaded the thought of December. Not because I didn’t enjoy celebrating the birth of the Savior but because I knew almost every evening would be cumbered with activities.
During those years when I pastored full time, the month of December was hectic and expensive. Our children were small and uninvited to the many gatherings we were expected to attend. No babysitters provided. So we secured our own at our expense. Every Sunday School class wanted us at their celebration. Then there was the church Christmas party, the cantatas, the Christmas caroling, and of course the present buying for everyone who might buy a gift for us. Finding out that so and so had purchased us a gift drove us at the last minute to crowded retail stores to buy that one last gift. And in the end we had to fit our family gatherings into the schedule as well.
By the time Christmas Eve arrived, my wallet was busted and my body drained. I welcomed Christmas Day…but not so I could celebrate my Savior’s birth. Rather so I could celebrate the end of the hustle and bustle. Finally I could breathe…and rest. Catch my breath. See family. Some of which I hadn’t seen for more than a year. As we crowded around the presents in our traditional circle, the children’s excitement and the adult’s conversations created noise, yet there was a hidden silence I hadn’t immersed in the entire month. The silence of peace. Peace because the celebrations were over, and peace because the Prince of Peace had been born.
This year I seek Christmas silence. Not the impossibility of deliverance from all the noise associated with the season’s celebration, but silence in my heart that comes from knowing all is right with the world because the Savior is in control. Among the noises of our world—and in my life, he whispers, “Peace be still.”
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