Real Christmas is a quiet thing. You don't necessarily hear it in the "Fa-la-la-la-la" of music at shopping malls. Or in the "Merry Christmas!" wishes we toss at each other in the holiday rush. That's because you don't hear real Christmas with your ears. You hear its silent song in your heart.
A little over a hundred years ago, Phillips Brooks - the longtime Episcopal preacher at Trinity Church in Boston - heard the song of Christmas in his heart. And he wrote about it in a poem that has become a famous Christmas carol: "O little town of Bethlehem."
The poem first describes the "still," starlit night when Jesus was born. Then, Brooks shares a wonderful secret: that the real Christmas - the coming of Christ - extends way beyond that night in Bethlehem. It comes again and again to hearts warmed by love, faith, humility. It comes the same way Christ has always come. Silently.
"How silently, how silently, / The wondrous gift is given," Brooks writes. He goes on to describe how noiselessly - even secretly - God pours His Christ into humble, waiting hearts:
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him
The dear Christ enters in.
Just a few blocks from Trinity Church, Mary Baker Eddy was arriving at a bold new understanding of Christmas, too. She was realizing that Christmas is actually spiritual - the silent coming of Christ. And she proclaimed it to the world in a poem called "Christ and Christmas," illustrated by artist James F. Gilman.
The poem heralds the coming of Christ to this age in a revolutionary new form - Christian healing. Healing that "repeats" the cures Jesus performed. Healing that amounts to a Science. Healing based on Biblical law.
At the center of Mary Baker Eddy's message in "Christ and Christmas" is this: anyone can be a Christian healer. Anyone can practice "Christ's silent healing." Anyone can relieve suffering through "treating the sick," as a young woman does in one of the pictures.
In this sense, celebrating Christmas means celebrating "Christ's silent healing." Celebrating it by practicing it. And practicing it constantly, because Christ's coming never stops. It comes and comes to every heart. And it heals and heals, everywhere.
Here's how Mrs. Eddy later described her own celebration of Christmas: "I love to observe Christmas in quietude, humility, benevolence, charity, letting good will towards man, eloquent silence, prayer, and praise express my conception of Truth's appearing" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pg. 262).
When you think about it, Christmas has the power to transform us just as spiritual healing does - silently, instantly. It changes you. It pours new peace, love, meekness, into your heart. And new quietness.
I remember a moment of real Christmas my family felt at a Christmas Eve gathering not long ago. It came silently - in the midst of a raucous living room scene, where some fifteen of us (including five wildly exuberant toddlers and babies) were having dessert.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang. It was someone we never expected - a former relative from the distant past. Our parting from him had been surrounded by heartache. Yet here he was, wanting to wish us a happy Christmas.
At first, no one knew what to say. But then, one person after another spoke to the visitor. Some hugged him - even some who had vowed they'd never speak to him again. And, one by one, he told us how much we meant to him.
When he left an hour later, we all knew something wonderful had happened. Silently, silently, Christ had healed old wounds. And real Christmas had come.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society