Today, images of the baby born in Bethlehem, humble shepherds coming to behold the Christ child and wise men starting their journey from afar fill humble hearts. Words like “silent” and “still,” “wonder” and “awe,” gather in the mind. Yet tumultuous times and endless distractions invoke a harsher vocabulary: “strife” and “stress,” “commotion” and “chaos.”
Respite comes from the Christmas story, from giving time and attention to things that truly matter and from learning to be still in the presence of the divine.
The wise men who came from the East to worship the Christ child brought gifts of value. They were indeed wise in their choices: Gold has was recognized as the standard of wealth. Frankincense, at the time, was more valuable than gold and was used in sacred temple ceremonies. And myrrh, worth even more, was used in healing ointments. The bundle amounted to three wise gifts laid before the child believed to be the savior of the world.
Yet far above the price of those first Christmas gifts was that which the wise men offered beyond money’s reach — their time and their attention. They journeyed for what must have been long, arduous and uncertain years. They would have had moments of doubt and days of discouragement. Perhaps they were tempted to turn back.
The record says nothing of their families or their choice to leave loved ones for so long. Undaunted still, the wise men stayed true and focused, consecrating their gifts by the offering of their time, attention and sacrifice.
Benjamin Franklin captured well their level of commitment: “Dost thou love life?” he asked, “Then do not squander time — for that is the stuff life is made of.” One of modern life’s greatest tragedies is the proliferation of distractions that so easily turn minutes into hours and days of squandered opportunity. Think of the strength that would come from a world concerned with the things that matter most.
The next hurdle to dwelling in the divine is learning to be still. Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop in South Africa, was once asked a thoughtful question by a radio host, “Have you found that your relationship to God has changed as you’ve grown older?”
Bishop Tutu paused and then said, “Yes. I am learning to shut up more in the presence of God.” He described how, for years, he went to God in a hurry with a shopping list.
Tutu continued, “I think (I am) trying to grow in just being there. Like when you sit in front of a fire in winter, you are just there in front of the fire, and you don’t have to be smart or anything. The fire warms you.”
Basking in the stillness of divinity is difficult given the noise of the world, yet something within the soul innately yearns for serenity. Think more, say less and create quiet moments.
Take such a moment this holy day and focus attention on the things that matter most, on the tranquility of the season, on Jesus the Christ and his power to redeem a troubled soul. It won’t be too difficult then to feel the true silence, stillness, wonder and awe of this remarkable celebration of life.