Christmas comes in many layers. On the far outside are the stores with their decorations, the crowds, the gift-buying, the Salvation Army bells. This begins to set the mood and draw us toward the center. Closer to home, in our neighborhoods, are the light displays in yards and on homes – maybe our own. Driving at night gives us glimpses into a magical world.
Inside our home is a whole new layer. Christmas tree with memory-laden ornaments, the smells of baking and mulling, carols playing on the stereo, wrapping gifts and laying them under the tree, cards from old friends. There is a pervasive sense of expectation and coming joy.
On Christmas Eve, we go to church. Suddenly, the carols are speaking to our hearts of something real, something we share in. The last layer peels away, and at our core, we find the stable in Bethlehem. Outside, the crowds push and surge, just like downtown. Up above, the “silent stars go by.” Within the stable, the mighty power of the universe is concentrated in a quiet explosion of new life. In one moment, at this one place, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met.” Everything is suddenly made right, and the deep peace of that rightness covers the Virgin and Child, then the animals, and begins to spread outward – quietly, silently, but invincibly, into our hearts. It continues to spread, remaking the world until the new Creation becomes manifest, and the old passes away. But for now, on this night, we are in Bethlehem, in that one tiny point of power. “Round yon Virgin mother and child, holy infant, so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.”