No kidding—I really did see “Oh Come, All Ye Wasteful” on a store window! The message is no longer subtle or unstated—‘tis the season to be greedy. Retailers begin their advertising barrage earlier every year, inundating us with catalogs, commercials and email offers. More and more people buy gifts for themselves while shopping for others. All that matters, it seems, is that we buy as much as possible, whether we need it or not. I want to shut it all out, but it’s everywhere. I can’t escape.
No one likes the commercialism of Christmas, but what can we do? Is the craziness unavoidable—the frenzied shopping, decorating, parties, cooking, company and all the stress?
One of my favorite Christmas hymns is “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” I love the line “the world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.” The phrase“solemn stillness” makes me think of a universe-wide pause in all activity, everyone and everything holding their breath, as Jesus is born and the angels announce his birth with their amazing song.
Although I shop, cook and have company during the Christmas month, a big part of my celebration is stillness. I love to sit and look at my nativity set while listening to the great Christmas hymns. I enjoy the silent glow of lights from my tree and fireplace mantle. As I take time for solemn stillness and holy silence, I feel a sense of expectation, of waiting with the whole creation for the coming of the Messiah.
The world waited for thousands of years for the One who would change the course of human history and usher in new covenant grace. It doesn’t seem much of a stretch to think a hush came over the angelic world as that moment drew near. It was a birth like no other, and nothing has been the same since.
The world is full of noise and clamor. It seems to me our Christmas celebrations would be much more meaningful if we celebrated with less noise and activity, rather than trying to cram in more. Get the shopping done early, decorate only a little, scale down the activities and spend the rest of your time in solemn stillness. Then, when it’s over, instead of being exhausted, you’ll start the new year with a sense of wonder at what happened two thousand years ago.
The Christmas message isn’t one of stress, exhaustion and frenzied activity. It’s a message of expectation and change, of an event so momentous the whole universe might indeed have held its breath as the Christ child made his appearance.
The last verse of the original lyrics of the hymn also looks forward to a future time: “When peace shall over all the earth Its ancient splendors fling, And the whole world give back the song Which now the angels sing.”
As we drink in the marvel of the Incarnation, let’s take time for some solemn stillness and then give back the angels’ song in joyous celebration.