A Small, Quiet Christmas

After a beautiful time of togetherness for a wedding in November, my husband and I will experience a very quiet Christmas. None of our family members are able to make the trip here again, and my husband and I are too spent to travel to be with others.

So this year just three of us will gather to celebrate Christmas. We’ve invited others and no one can join us. For someone used to Christmas being “an event” with four active sons and all the traditions we formed over their growing up years, this Christmas had the potential to feel a bit deflating.

But the opposite has happened.

The absence of activity has focused my mind on Advent rather than the trappings, on the arrival of a small baby, the incarnate God, to a teenage father and mother who certainly felt all alone and scared, no hubbub (with the exception of those angels singing).  We’ve pared down our normal hyped up Christmas which was my attempt to “make Christmas memorable” for my sons. No Christmas tree but just white lights adorning our ficus tree, greens sprayed across our mantle with delicate lights woven through the branches, a spray of greenery hung on the front door lit up by a spotlight, and a simple lighted manger scene on a table in our living room serving as a reminder. Even our gift buying has been minimized, avoiding the shopping frenzy.  A festive atmosphere is always good to mark the special occasion, but in the past, we lost something, replacing festivity with frenzy. I wish we had offered our sons this simple celebration as they were growing up.

For us, this Advent season has been filled with singing. We have attended beautiful choral and orchestral concerts and sang Christmas carols after a soup dinner with our small group. Recently my husband had his men’s group to the house for a get-together where they share words and poetry. As I lay in bed listening to an audio book through ear buds, suddenly I heard the men’s voices rise with song. I pulled out the buds to listen to a beautiful harmonized rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” sounding like one perfectly tuned heart. I smiled throughout the carol…and throughout the next carol that spontaneously rose later. We worshipped last week in a small store-front church in an impoverished neighborhood of Chicago, singing together for hours about a story that has transcended culture to touch all our lives in such different ways with the potential to unite us all.

Often I experience regrets as a parent of grown sons. Not offering my sons this beautiful pared down season joins the list.  They would’ve benefited by the holy focus rather than all the glittery noise and the bombardment of ads shouting to buy a new car or diamond ring for your loved one.

We live in a world filled with so much division, loneliness, anxiety, noise, disunity, hate, polarization, and judgmental attitudes coming from all sides. So many of us made the naughty list this year with our thoughts, words, and actions.  But once during World War I, enemy troops initiated a spontaneous cease-fire as a response to singing, allowing music to transform and unite them.

This true story is depicted in the movie Joyeux Noël .  In the midst of battle, the lead singer of the Berlin Imperial Opera company was sent to the front lines to sing for the troops. His beautiful tenor voice caused the French soldiers in their trenches to stand up and applaud. Then the German, French, and Scottish regiments began to sing together, followed by an impromptu cease-fire where they shared tidbits of each other’s lives.

The next day, the battle returned.

Oh, how we need a truce this year—personally and collectively. How we need a season of reverent silence to focus our minds and quiet our hearts, allowing for contemplation and change. Maybe if we were to raise our voices together and consider the reason behind all the festivity, we might be able to form a lasting truce.

In the meantime, my heartfelt wish for each person reading these words is that you find a way to experience a Joyeux Noël—preferably a lasting one.

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