The hymns have been sung, the presents revealed—and in some cases, they still lie with the strewn wrapping paper, waiting to be returned. The food and drink consumed, the calendar page has turned from Dec. 25 to Dec. 26. While some have already taken down their holiday decorations, for many, the Christmas tree still stands, beautifully lit.
Despite the joy and the hope, the peace and love that is the meaning of Christmas, life has moved on with its business of triumphs and tragedies. Many are eager for the next holiday, preferring the non-stop party that epitomizes New Year’s. For some, what matters is the moment, not the hope that Christmas brings.
The fanfare has stopped and the trumpets with their sheet music have been put aside; the pageants and the plays are done for another year. Christmas has become silent, just as it was on that first night in Bethlehem, when in the cold, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and even the animals of the field gathered around the newborn child who entered our lives to become the Savior of a forbidding and forlorn world.
When Christmas becomes silent, that is when it speaks the loudest.
Christmas is a wonderful and joyful mystery and we humans can never, ever really understand it. We perceive it, however dimly. And perhaps it is God’s plan that it be so. From the very beginning, God knew we needed saving from ourselves, and he set out to do so through Christ. So much of human history from the time of Adam and Eve had been Sturm und Drang, all noise and clamor. So, when that night in Bethlehem came, God decided something different. He would enter the world quietly, without fuss. He would enter our lives as a simple child, not as a conquering emperor or a fiery messenger, as in the prophets of old. He would be born of a “mean estate” (as the saying goes)—nothing elaborate, in the most abject way possible, on a bed of straw in a manger, surrounded by the trappings of poverty, yet rich in love and adoration.
The only ornament to decorate that night was the star in the sky, surrounded by smaller, distant stars. Indeed, we have a Christmas song about that night, and when “the Little Lord Jesus” wakes, “no crying He makes.”
Christmas is the occasion for silence. It is in silence that we see much, for we understand so little in the noise and the clamor. We see two people, who each in their own way consented to God’s will and to each other: The Immaculate Mother who gave her “yes” and the just man, though beset by dreams and worry, joined his “yes” to hers. We see the frightened shepherds, consoled by the angels to “fear not,” who came to be witnesses of something special. And we see those who—privileged and powerful in the world’s sight—came to prostrate themselves before what they beheld.
Christmas has only begun; it can never be “over.” And, sadly, while the vicissitudes of life can mar belief in it, causing people to discard it like so much worn wrapping paper, it doesn’t make Christmas any less important for us. Jesus, the “God-Man” came to “pitch his tent among us” and be with us along the way. He did this in the most unobtrusive way possible, in silence.