Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas I: The Silence of Indwelling


This Christmas has been a very unusual one for me.  For the first time in almost 50 years I sat in the pew for Christmas.  Ever since I began music school in 1962, I have had a gig, a performance or a service to be a part of.  It was quite strange, therefore, to sit and watch the liturgy without having some sort of duty.  It was not necessarily comfortable, but it WAS informative. 

Advent and Christmas for clergy tends to be totally overwhelming.  It is why so few preach Christmas I because if you are far enough up the pecking order, you get to take
this Sunday off.  It isn’t just the extra service during the week of Christmas, it is all the time and stress of the season that makes one totally worn out by Christmas Eve.  The expectation and preparation for an exceptionally beautiful service, the pastoral care load usually doubles as we get closer to Christmas, or the winter solstice—I don’t know which is more operative--, the added personal or familial expectations for the season, harder weather situations and by Christmas Eve most clergy are ready to crash.  I belong to an online ring of other women pastors around the world and I noticed Tuesday that the chats on were characterized by anxiety, fatigue and very little peace, joy and love.

And yet…and yet…

Today we have the prologue of the Gospel of John for our Gospel lesson.  This Sunday is called First Sunday of Christmas and the readings are always the same:  In the beginning was the Word….  John’s story of the birth of Christ is rooted neither in Bethlehem, nor in the lineage of David.  John’s understanding of the birth of Christ is in Creation.  This is a poem—we don’t generally recognize the Prologue as such because it is usually transcribed and translated like prose in our Bibles.  But it is a hymn which John has adapted to tell the story of the beginnings of Christ.  It uses the known to tell the story of the indescribable. 

The Word which John describes is not a written word or even a spoken word, but an Idea that goes way beyond description.  He uses Word to denote Good News, the
Incarnate, that experience of the Holy that all religions claim.  John understood the experience of the Christ was the one that had been promised from all times.  He understood that the Holy One of Israel had made good his promise to be with humanity.  

This prologue also, like the opening sentences of any piece of literature, tells of John’s intentions in his Gospel.  He tells of the Light that came into the world.  He tells of how the John Baptist must decrease, how Jesus is not recognized by his own and how God has opened the promise of salvation to all.  But most of all, John touches on the mystery of the Incarnation--  "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth."

We have seen his glory.  And each year we are invited to celebrate and remember that we HAVE seen his glory, whether it is in the grand spectacular incense-ridden liturgy, or in the quiet gathering of those we love.  

This Advent was a bit of jumble because of the weather.  In upstate NY where I spent much of my career, snow was just part of the equation.  But the ice we had in mid-December is another matter altogether.  I am reminded of a piece that Fredrick Buechner wrote describing a huge snow storm that landed upon New York City.  It came so fast and furious that the snow removal could not keep up.  Cars parked on the streets became mere white lumps in the even landscape.  But what was so remarkable to Buechner was the silence of the city.  In the largest city on the planet, there was NO noise. And it was in that silence that the Prologue of John spoke so profoundly.  When we were iced in a few weeks ago, I noticed that same phenomenon.  There were no street noises in our neighborhood. No children playing, no trucks or cars plying the streets, no birds cheeping, or dogs barking.  Just Silence.

It is in that silence that we begin to understand the Prologue of John’s Gospel.  It is when we can quiet our hearts long enough; the poem begins to work on our souls.  The greatness of God’s acts begins to work in us.  The Word takes root in that quiet waiting.

Faith has nothing to do with ascribing to a series of beliefs.  Faith has to do with the relationship we have individually with the Holy—with the Word—that allows us to know the intimacy of goodness that God infuses in us in the Incarnation.  Then faith propels us into living together with one another in the harmony: "From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."  The Word is enfleshed in Jesus and among us, so that we might live not for ourselves.  That is the grace of this season.

In my opinion, John understood the silence into which Christ was born.  It is the silence into which we are often invited by the weather, or circumstances of our lives.  But it is a silence which we often avoid with our TV’s, music, cell phones or whatever distraction we can conjure.  It takes courage to sit with that silence.  For the Christ to be known and incarnated within us, takes a bit of work. 
 It may take a snow day.  It may take a walk in the wilderness, a closed door, but
it will take an open heart.  It will take a willingness to set aside our anxieties, our worries, our have-to’s and oughts.  It will take a willingness to take this Prologue and sit with it in silence to know the glory of God, to know the real meaning of Christmas.

This seldom happens on the great feasts of the Church. It seldom happens in church at all.
Church is for worship--not the intimacy of the Word.  It seldom happens when we are ‘ready’ for it.  But it usually does happen when we bring our whole selves to that indwelling.  It comes when we are ready to put ourselves aside to receive the Holy.

It is interesting that back before the changes in
the mass, this one passage was read at the end of the service every day.  It was the passage that went with us always, but it had become so ubiquitous, it was like the noise of our daily lives. The Prologue had become part of the chatter in the liturgy and finally it was removed. That doesn't mean that it isn't important.  It is vastly important and necessary for us to understand who Christ is.

But it takes the silence of our hearts to hear the Word of God.  And while I don’t wish us bad weather, I would invite you to find a quiet day—a quiet hour where there is no radio, no MP3, no TV, or cell phone and let this passage root deeply in your being.  I would invite you to the healing silence of the Word dwelling among us.  It is there that you will find the peace of Christmas.  It is there that you will know the indwelling of Christ.  It is there that you will behold his glory.

The * pictures on this post are from the camera of Libby Hedrick.  Some were taken on our trip to Mexico in October and November.  I am thankful for her talent and her ability to touch the Holy with her lens.


Monica said...

Thank you for the encouragement to seek the silence. And the pictures are wonderful. Thanks to you and Libby for sharing those as well.

Gus said...

That bit of reading is my absolute favorite part of the whole Bible, and the only thing I truly LOVE about Christmas.