The Christmas Eve service at First Presbyterian Church loosely followed the lessons and carols model. We sung many of our favorite hymns, and read once more the good news of Christ’s birth. Here is Drew’s meditation for that evening, on Luke’s story and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Silent Night/Seven O’Clock News” Here is a link to the text: Luke 2:1-15 and the song: Silent Night/Seven O’Clock News.
Christmas Eve Meditation
There’s a song called “Silent Night/ 7 O’Clock News” by Simon and Garfunkel. I remember the first time I heard that song. I think I was twelve. My brother was having a sleepover, and I’d managed to tag along. We turned out all the lights in the playroom, and Matthew held a boom box on his lap. In the darkness, Simon and Garfunkel’s voices begin the song. Their voices harmonize beautifully, echoing through the room, Silent Night, Holy Night. But then another voice fades in, a news broadcast.
A bill against racial discrimination stalls in Congress. All is calm, all is bright. A comedian dies of an overdose. Round Yon Virgin, Mother and Child. The trial of a serial killer begins. Holy Infant So Tender and Mild. The United States can look forward to at least five more years of war. Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
I remember being frustrated. I remember thinking that the news ruined the song. The newscaster’s dry recitation of heartbreaking facts completely interfered with me hearing the music. I wanted so badly to hear Silent Night, it was my favorite Christmas Carol, but this other noise kept coming in over it, with nothing but bad news. What were these things doing in my silent night? What were these events to get in the way of my heavenly peace?
There is a tendency for us to try to protect God’s peace from the interruptions of the world. We want our silent night to be pure, and we’re frustrated when our world interrupts it. We try so hard to have a perfect Christmas but we can’t, there’s always something that goes wrong, something gets in the way of this peace we’ve tried to create for ourselves. We want things to be right, but bad news just has a way of droning on in the midst of our celebrations.
This past month has been full of bad news. It’s been harder this year to keep the news from ruining our Christmas reverie, from messing up our heavenly peace. Recent events have us looking at strangers with suspicion, instead of kindness.
But the wonderful thing is that in the midst of the bad news that often floods our world, God shines through anyway. We drive home late from work and slow down to see Christmas lights along our street, reminders that the light of the world will soon arrive. We teach our granddaughter to make the same cookies Mom used to make for us, and brush a tear from our eye as she pulls them out of the oven. We walk into a mess in the living room and catch our son playing with nativity figures instead of the usual action figures. Even when we can’t seem to find a place for him, Jesus somehow creeps in anyway. When there is no room at the inn, God finds a stable.
Years later, I listened to the Simon and Garfunkel song again. This time I wanted to hear the newscast. I wanted to know if the news sounded as depressing then as it does sometimes today. As I listened I was fascinated to hear the newscaster talk about events as they were happening, big historic events I’d only read about, talked about like they were normal, every day affairs. But as I’m trying to listen to the words of the broadcast keeps saying, Silent Night keeps breaking through. Every time the newscaster finishes a sentence or pauses for breath, the song rings out loud and clear. It even fills up the spaces between the words, so that there is no moment without the proclamation of heavenly peace. Even as he’s speaking the contours of the beautiful harmony stand out, the melody rings over his voice, it refuses to be silent. Even in the face of all the bad news we receive it insists on proclaiming heavenly peace.
The beauty of Christ’s coming is not that there is a peace that cannot be interrupted by the world. The beauty is that the peace that Christ brings erupts into the world. Jesus comes into our lives in places we do not expect and fills the deep longings of our souls. Like the shepherds we look out into a dark night, and suddenly the air is filled with light and our eyes are filled with visions of angels and our ears are filled with trumpets and their voices proclaiming God’s peace. God’s peace interrupts our world, filling our hearts with song even in the face of bad news, echoing through our lives even when we have no room for him to come.
The story of this night, this holy night, isn’t the story of a night that was ruined because there was no room at the inn, or everyone was tired and cranky, or the houseguests acted like they were raised in a barn. Though all of those things happened. Jesus didn’t come to get rid of imperfection but to fill it. Christ came to fill our lives, to patch up all the holes in our hearts, to fill all our needs, and to ring out in every void and with every breath, his heavenly peace, the peace that passes all understanding. The story of this night is the story of a ruined night made perfect because Jesus was there. Because in the midst of all the bad news of that day and this, a child was born to us, who interrupts our lives and fills them with joy and grace, who is the answer to our questions, and the fulfillment to our longings, and who, on that night long ago in Bethlehem, slept in heavenly peace.