So there’s this myth about the birth of Christ, that it was super-serene and peaceful. “All is calm, all is bright” we sing. On account of being holy, the night must have been silent.
Having been present during childbirth, I kind of doubt that. And unless you buy into the Roman Catholic teaching that, “just as Jesus passed miraculously through the locked doors of the upper room, so he passed painlessly out of the womb of Mary,” you’ve got to agree.
If we acknowledge that Mary, like all of fallen humanity, experienced the curse of sin, then there’s no question that, while the Little Town of Bethlehem may have been lying still, in deep and dreamless sleep (what does that even—?), the particular stable/cave/room where Christ was born was decidedly filled with pain, stress, blood, and other unpleasantness.
Not to mention fear. I mean, this birth is not only sans epidural, there’s not even a doctor or a hospital bed or…really think of anything that today makes childbirth somewhat less horrible and realize it was missing from Jesus’ birth.
I know what you’re thinking: the “silent night” officially commenced once the birth had ended. But having been the father of a newborn, I doubt that as well. If the baby doesn’t make a good deal of racket, like, right away, that’s cause for great concern.
Crying is what babies do. They cry, they eat, and they eliminate. And sometimes they coo. But not Jesus, right? “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” I know, I know, I must be fun at Christmas parties.
Maybe the reason this notion of a silent, calm, still Christmas rubs me the wrong way is that I rarely experience one. As a pastor, Christmas is one of the busiest and least calm times of year. Besides all the extra events, services, and visits that play into the season, there’s the craziness of buying gifts, attending parties, running around, etc. that is common to all of us.
For many, Christmas is a manic time at best. So we try to spackle over the madness with a layer of nostalgia. If I drink some eggnog while watching Miracle on 34th Street, listening to Bing Crosby, and reading The Christmas Beanie by Ronnie Martin, maybe I can effectively zen my Christmas, such that I stride into the new year feeling refreshed and rested, rather than frazzled and drained.
Just keep repeating that mantra: “All is calm, all is bright,” and maybe you’ll start to believe it.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I suppose. During the buildup to WWII, in light of the imminent bombing of major cities, the British government printed millions of “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters, encouraging the populace to draw on their stiff Victorian upper lips and pretend all was calm and all was bright, despite fear, destruction and uncertainty. (We have been frequently reminded of these posters in recent years by a plethora of stupid knockoffs, T-shirts, memes, and corny advertising campaigns. To this day, I’m convinced that the only worthwhile derivation was the double-reference, “In Soviet Russia, Calm Keeps You.”)
There’s a hint of the modern approach to Christmas in there (on a smaller scale, of course). Keep calm and carry on, remembering this is all supposed to be merry and bright and holly-jolly, etc.
When he was all grown up and leading his disciples, Jesus gave them what seems at first to be similar advice: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b, NIV) Instead of “take heart,” the King James reads “Be of good cheer,” which sounds vaguely Christmassy, does it not?
But the Greek behind the word denotes something deeper than forced holiday cheer; it denotes courage, boldness, even daring! And the reason for that courage goes way beyond a stiff upper lip or indomitable spirit. “Take heart, for I have overcome the world.”
The solution to Christmas craziness is Christmas itself. Christ came into a world that was full of violence, oppression, inconvenient censuses (read: taxation without representation), wicked kings, and corrupt religion . . . and yet, despite his humble birth, his trashy home town, and the soldiers trying to kill him before he could even crawl, he brings comfort, joy, and peace.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)
In light of the babe in the manger, we can keep calm and carry on, with untroubled hearts, regardless of the trials and troubles we find in the world.
Even in the midst of desperation, no room in the inn, no crib for a bed, and all the fear and pain of childbirth, there is a peace and a calm that comes in knowing Jesus. The world needs this peace as much as it ever has.
Keep your eyes on Jesus. Keep calm and carry on.