Silent Night

I am still in the midst of all the things.  My hard drive crashed, so I am basically living in my office at school trying to get my finals and the first three chapters of my thesis finished.  I haven’t had a decent nights sleep in a week.  I’m scheduled to work 55 hours this week between my two jobs.

In the midst of all this noise and chaos, I am still trying to make time to wait.  I am still stopping to look back and remember, to look forward with hopeful anticipation.  I am still trying to honor the Advent season.

This morning, after discovering that the song I’d been singing all morning was also the hymn for today’s morning prayers and listening to a beautiful cello and piano arrangement of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” I wrote a thing.

This is my Christmas gift to you.  May you find a moment of silence in the chaos to reflect on the one who came and is coming again.

They tell me the night was not so silent.
That Mary’s cries echoed through the stable cave.
They tell me the background to her labor was that
Of lowing cows and disgruntled donkeys,
Complaining noisily about their disrupted rest.

Maybe Joseph panicked.
Maybe Mary was scathing mad,
In the fine tradition of every laboring woman since Eve.
Maybe the night was chaos and confusion,
Compounded by terrified shepherds
And an inn-keeper, un-amused by all the hub-bub.

I’m sure he was born screaming,
Just like any other babe.

But sometime after all the chaos,
After the shepherds had left
And the animals had settled down
And Joseph had curled up in a corner to get some sleep,
Mary nursed her baby.

She counted his fingers and toes.
She traced his features with a delicate finger.
She kissed his downy head
And whispered how much he was loved.

And how could she not remember
In that silent moment,
How all of this began.
How could she not be reminded
Of the brush of angels wings in her parents’ garden.
Of a soft and terrible voice saying, “Do not be afraid.
You have found favor with God.”

How strange to realize you are holding all of God in your arms.

And this is Christmas:
After the quiet grumbling
Of mothers who have not had enough sleep
And fathers who can’t find the camera
After the joyous screaming of children
After the ringing of bells
And the singing of carols
And the opening and closing of endless front doors.
After the last kitchen timer has buzzed
And the last cabinet door has been closed
After the last wrapping paper has been torn
And the last bow has crinkled,
We wander into a silent stable
And kneel next to a nursing mother
To ponder the mystery of Emmanuel:
God with us.


Making Time to Wait

In one of life’s little ironies, I slept eight hours last night for the first time in months.  This is ironic, of course, because I am in the week of the semester where I should be sleeping the least.  Everything is due between now and Monday.  Presentations, papers, the first three chapters of my thesis (which I’ve procrastinated on horribly), that last bit of data entry I promised my boss I would get done, my expense reports for the semester . . . it’s all coming to a head.  And now is the time my body decides it is capable of sleep.

Oh, and it’s the first week of Advent.

During my first three years of undergrad, I joked that the Christmas season didn’t officially begin until 24 hours after I had turned in my last final.  That gave me time to shower, do two loads of laundry, eat a couple of times, and sleep for at least twelve hours.  By the end of that period, I would have processed the stress of final exams and started to feel somewhat human again.  By that time, I was ready to celebrate.

The last few years have been different, though.  I’ve always loved the Advent season.  It was the first remotely liturgical tradition I was introduced to.  But these last few years, particularly as I’ve wrestled with my faith, Advent has been particularly meaningful.

I’ve been tempted to ignore the beginning of the Advent season this year.  My tree isn’t up, and I haven’t had time to go buy candles.  My apartment is a mess, my grades are hanging in the balance, and the last thing I feel like doing is thinking about the beginning of a holiday that will culminate in a visit to my parents.

But I feel the call to wait.

I realize that the names for the four Advent candles differ from one tradition to another, but at home, the first week was always the Prophet’s Candle.  We read passages from the Old Testament and remembered Israel’s long wait for the Messiah.  A Messiah that, ironically, they were too busy to recognize when he finally came.

So this Advent season, I am making time to wait.  Even if that just means lighting my usual candle, reading a little extra scripture, and singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  I am making time to remember, to contemplate, and to wonder.  I am making time for the season so I won’t miss the Messiah when he shows up.

How are you waiting this Advent season?


Bonus round:  The Advent book we used while I was growing up had a poem/prayer for each candle.  I can’t always remember all of them, but the first week was “Like a candle long ago, your promise, Lord, burned true.  You keep all your promises, keep us true to you.”  It’s not officially Advent until someone says that poem.