Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Collective Breath

Christmas Eve is here!  Complete with snow on the ground, making the White Christmas I sing about happily true this year.  The presents are wrapped with brightly colored paper, completed with sparkly shiny bows.  Cards expressing Christmas wishes to all are nearly ready to be given (my theory is that as long as they go out before the New Year it’s all good).  Soon, the house will be filled with the smell of Christmas Eve chili, lemon pie and a mixture of other goodies; complimented by the sounds of children, friends and family. 

The special time of Christmas is not something that is made up of all these wonderful things, though these are exceptionally lovely things to include.  It is a yearly instance where the world seems to take a collective breath and inhale the sweet newness of an infant in a manger; the feeling we get when we hold a tiny new life that is only minutes, days or weeks old.  Thrust into our arms, the baby’s weight is slight, but it fills us with the weight of love and responsibility. 

The pause of peace that occurs around this time of year is reflected in traditions, spontaneous declarations and heartbreakingly wistful wants of peace throughout history and the world.  The town of Turku, Finland, has declared a Christmas peace since the Middle Ages.  The holly and mistletoe, respectively the kissing plant and the plant of peace, are reminiscent of the kiss of peace monarchs would give and receive from their nobles.  The old history of many carols can be traced to the need of peace that only this new life a baby could bring.  In much more modern history, a desire for peace came out again in the Civil War, even amidst Christmas day skirmishes.  The soldiers’ hearts craved that peace should be the order of the day and reflected it in their letters and songs.  After the capture of Savannah, some northern soldiers delivered several wagons full of food and other supplies to the people who were caught in a land desolated by a bitter war.  In World War I, an impromptu peace broke out in several places as men in opposing trenches exchanged songs, a few gifts, and rallied their impromptu football (a.k.a soccer) teams with cheering, ringing foreign sounds of peace through no-man’s-land.  Much more recent is in war-torn Nigeria; a few Muslim and Christian neighbors have declared this very Christmas a time of peace to celebrate together. 

Beyond the kindness to strangers we many witness at this time, these days have a convention of people drawing in a breath and catching in a singular air of the divine.  I think it is more than just sweet traditions and customs that has brought about these singular moments that we know of, and the thousands we do not know of.  I think it is the celebration of an earthly birth of a heavenly king.  The peace our minds and bodies crave catch a whisper from the spirit, quiet amongst the sounds of wrapping, caroling, sledding, shopping, visiting, and cooking; barely heard and yet keenly felt.  It is the whisper that offers peace, the peace of the spirit.  The peace we have so long wanted is rested in our arms as a new born baby, Jesus.  The emptiness in the longing is filled with the hope of peace.  But, I think that it is not just the baby that impacts in such a tremendous way, it is the man as well.  The man that died for us, died for us out of love and returned to us out of love, to offer peace. 

In the hectic moments the next few days presents, I wish you a merry and peace filled Christmas.  That you will draw in a breath and catch a faint hint of the smell of a new baby in a manger, of a man on a cross, of the promise of peace in love. 

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
 I heard the bells on Christmas day
 Their old familiar carols play,
 And wild and sweet the words repeat
 Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 I thought how, as the day had come,
 The belfries of all Christendom
 Had rolled along th'unbroken song
 Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 And in despair I bowed my head:

 'There is no peace on earth,' I said
 'For hate is strong, and mocks the song
 Of peace on earth, good will to men.'

 Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
 'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
 The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
 With peace on earth, good will to men.'

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow