This year’s Christmas posting is a bit late, as the time leading up to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the days after Christmas have been filled with reflections on Jesus’ birth and much travel to spend precious time with family and friends.
Last year’s Christmas theme was laser-focused on one word, one thought, and one Person – “Emmanuel” – God with us – God coming to earth in human form – fully God and fully human – in Jesus.
This year’s Christmas theme has been an interesting journey, filled with a variety of seemingly unrelated topics and things, yet somehow all interconnected:
- The Christmas story in Luke Chapter 2
- A full moon this Christmas season
- A book about experiencing God through desert and mountain landscapes
- An old Christmas hymn
As I read the Christmas story in Luke Chapter 2, one verse seemed to jump out at me this year:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
(Luke 2:8 NIV)
Away from Bethlehem, away from the sounds of the city, out in the middle of nowhere, some shepherds were in the hillsides with their sheep, keeping an eye on them overnight from anyone or anything that would harm them or separate them from the flock. Luke makes no mention of any issues with the shepherds or the sheep that particular night – probably a quiet evening as the sheep calmly grazed or bedded down on the hillside for the evening.
As I ventured outside in the evenings preceding Christmas, I was reminded of what it may have been like that first Christmas night – peace and quiet, a cloudless sky, a full moon giving sight to everyone and everything, the shepherds wrapped up, breathing in the cold, crisp air of the evening, a myriad of stars dotting the sky.
Sometimes the hustle and bustle of the city are fun and exciting, but the peace that comes from the wide-open spaces transcends understanding and is a healing balm to our souls. In the open landscape of the wilderness, we experience the vastness of God, inexpressible with words or even thoughts. In the wilderness and mountains, we come to know the presence of God without all our trappings that we think we need to survive and prosper – truly, being in God’s Presence is enough. Author Belden Lane expresses this thought well around one aspect of our relating to God – through prayer:
“The desert practice of contemplative prayer abandons, on principle, all experiences of God or the self. It simply insists that being present before God, in a silence beyond words, is an end in itself.” (The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, p. 12)
I am also reminded that this Christmas is the 200th anniversary of the traditional Christmas hymn “Silent Night”. Much like the Christmas Story in Luke Chapter 2, the hymn was a culmination of both planning and what seemed like at the time an unfortunate circumstance – a request for a new hymn, and a malfunctioning pipe organ. Rather than being led by the majestic reverberations of the church organ, this beloved hymn was led with a few simple chords strummed quietly on a guitar.
All four of these seemingly unrelated topics came together – the shepherds in the field in the Christmas story of Luke 2, the full moonlit night, the experience of God in the wide open spaces, and the simple lyrics of Silent Night – all are a reminder of the quiet, unassuming circumstances when our Lord made His way into the world, as a defenseless, helpless baby born to humble parents.
And yet, this was only the beginning of the story – about the Creator entering His creation and showing us how to live as He intended, giving us hope and purpose.
May we never lose sight of God entering into the everyday, both on that first Christmas, and today, right where we are.
May we carry that same reality into 2019.
Merry (Belated) Christmas,