Christmas Eve: Entering the road to silence
I grew up a East German village pastor's daughter. Our Christmas was always the busiest time of year. I often traveled with my father through the little villages of his perish to cold churches to play the flute, since my father sang badly and there was no organist to be found.
At our home church's late service our whole family did the music, singing to the flock in that little village close to the Polish border. At the end of the day we were tired. And we had not even entered the Christmas Stube yet.
Oh, the Christmas Stube...
My mother would lock the sitting room door days in advance. There she prepared the tree and assigned a little place to each child where we would find humble gifts at Christmas night.
Though one might enjoy dwelling in this romantic memory, it is not the memory of the holy night which lays deepest in my heart. For in a big family in a church home one thing was often absent — quiet. How I longed for a silent night which would embrace me where I am…
Is your heart, now, at the end of the day, on the Eve of Christmas, also longing for that silent night? When the hustle and bustle fades, the people are gone, the lights are off? And we are alone before the flicker of a last candle, wondering, even doubting, what this is all about?
Do not loose hope, keep watch; So must be the silent night when it gives birth to the holy.
When I was 17 I spent a year in Palestine as a volunteer. On Christmas Eve our volunteer choir first sang in Bethlehem and then at the late Christmas service at the Redeemer church in Jerusalem.
Driving back the dark roads and crossing the military checkpoint into the Westbank, my colleagues and I decided to stop once more in Bethlehem, just to see, before driving up the little hill to Beit Jala, where we lived.
Christmas night in Bethlehem!
When we reached the plaza of the Church of the Nativity it was clear we were much too late for the splendid Christmas celebrations. Though the air was still vibrating from the day’s activities, the many visitors had long left the last church service, the media broadcasters were packing up, some last, lonely Santas made their way home, and the tourists were safely ensconced in their hotels enjoying their Christmas dinners.
So we walked back through the empty town, which had been brimming with Christmas festivities just hours ago. Now we tried to find our way home through dark narrow alleys with no windows or lights, only the closed store fronts with shuttered metal gates flanked our way. It was so silent we could hear our steps on the old ancient roads. The three of us became quieter and finally left each other to our own thoughts.
It was in this foreboding silence that "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht," started to sing itself in me: The German version translates like this:
Silent night, holy night,
all is sleeping;
only the holy familiy
is lonely keeping
watch through the night.
This night, this silent night in the little town of Bethlehem, was when the wonder of Christmas sank in for me. No ringing Hallelujah Choruses, no carols, no sermons, not even the homey Christmas Stube, year and again, can do what walking the empty, dark and locked up streets of occupied Bethlehem did to me. This silent night entered deep into my bones. It was indeed a lonely night, a dark place, where God was born.
God chooses the quiet of the night, when the buzz is over, and makes a Divine home in an empty stable.
Our heart, your heart, is the manger. Now. In this silent night, the Divine is waiting to break in.
We must empty our heart, says Meister Eckhart, so God can write in it.
Where is your Bethlehem tonight?
Here is my Christmas blessing for you entering the night
May silence grow around you
so you can listen to the holy word
spoken in the stillness.
May darkness shield you
so you can see the star,
shining in the night.
May solitude guide you,
so you can find
the love Divine.
May the night embrace you
so you can awake
to a new dawn.