Listen for the quiet of Christmas

My favorite time of year is the Hush Before Christmas.

It was always there, but I was slow to discover it. Then, reading newspapers from all over the state, I noticed that, the closer Christmas drew, the thinner the news columns became. As I looked more closely, I became aware how the quiet mounted.

Government - from Congress to the smallest village board - discovers, in that last week before the holiday, that any remaining business can be put on hold till after the celebration. School holiday programs are done. Clubs and businesses, for the most part, hold their parties earlier in the month, when guests are less pressed for time. Holiday concerts set the mood.

Television programming returns to normal. Advertising drops. Retailers accept that shopping is almost over. Appointment calendars lighten. Even airline terminals slow; the flight schedule is sparse to allow airline employees to be with family. The last travelers straggle in to be greeted with welcoming hugs.

In my mind, I see my favorite nativity scene and wish it had been painted. I see it as the Flemish Pieter Bruegel might have painted it. It is full of people and "busyness." This is Bethlehem.

The decree has gone out that all the world should be taxed and each must go to his own city where the tax will be collected. Tax collectors are receiving money; people arrive and leave. The inns are overflowing, and there is revelry. In homes are happy reunions of families with relatives who have come back for the taxing.

On this crowded canvas, you may look awhile before you notice, down in the corner, at the edge of town, a star over a stable. Inside are Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus in the manger, and the shepherds who were the first to understand the news. The self-containment and self-involvement of the other groups make it clear that the shepherds are the only outsiders who understand that something highly important has happened in that stable.

This Hush before Christmas, when the world quiets, can be found anywhere, once you know how to listen. I've found it in so many places: in the full moon over the New Mexico desert on Christmas Eve on the last leg of a journey to be with family. In the warm hospitality of a restaurant as its last guests were served before it closed early and the help went home to their families. I've felt it in the Christmas Eve worship service at a small town church in Wisconsin, where it was not just the gathering of a congregation but of close friends. And I've found it at home when I've stopped to listen and think and read the beautiful Bible accounts of the nativity.

So I wish you the Hush Before Christmas, when the world's clamor quiets and lets in, anew, the Christ love. Listen for it, seek it, make room for it, and hold onto it. For it is always there, and its quiet, recalled, can bless other times, other days.

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