For many of us, our associations with Christmas are shaped by our childhood experiences. One of my most vivid is singing “While shepherds washed their socks by night” with a broad grin, alongside my Dad, at the back of a packed church. Then, of course, there was the Christmas when I didn’t go to sleep until 4 or 5.00a.m. because I was desperate to see Santa. As it happened, he turned up just after I had dropped. off! My first Christingle service is a stronger and more profound memory. There is something mystical about the combination of gently singing “Silent night,” while gazing around the circle of candle flames and the glowing faces.
“Silent night! Holy night! all is calm, all is bright, round the virgin and her child; holy infant, so gentle and mild, sleep in heavenly peace; sleep in heavenly peace!” This carol conjures up a warm, comforting picture of a contented mother and baby. Yet it also speaks of transcendence of a ‘holy infant’ and a ‘heavenly peace’. Here in this child heaven and earth are joined. In the stillness, we sense the ‘silence of eternity.’ Not simply the absence of sound, this silence is pregnant with possibility and filled with divine presence.
Finding time to be silent can be instrumental in becoming more aware of God, whereby we can explore our deepest selves. Without distractions, we begin to discover our true identity in God. That is the opportunity of silence, as a monk told me, “When we enter into periods of silence, we start to see things with greater clarity.” Besides learning more about who God created us to be, we meet God in the silence. For Christ is at the centre, and by paying attention in silence, we get to know him intimately.
In the season of Advent that can so often be characterised by busyness, let’s decide to make some time to be silent every day, ten minutes for instance. These times of stillness will help us to anticipate the birth of the Christ child with renewed readiness, and to know his gentle coming to us at Christmas.
“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessing of his heaven; no ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him – still the dear Christ enters in.”