Today, as the same old Christmas carols played, one line rang out as if it was brand new for me.

How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.

There have been precious few moments of quiet in my year, as I have set in motion so much sound and fury in my own life that I can hardly hear myself think. In such a state of self-induced hysteria, I’m almost sure to miss Him when he comes again and again into my presence… through gestures of grace, through bread and wine, through the seemingly common blessings of every day.

Reading Luke 1 and 2 with Anne this morning, I was impressed by how those who are drawn to, and recognize, the Christ child are those who were waiting, watchful, and did not hesitate to follow a provocation when it came.

You would think an angelic host in the heavens would have inspired a whole region to converge upon the manger. But the shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night. That suggests a quiet, dutiful vigilance. They were attentive, in the midst of their mundane chores. And lo…

Meanwhile, the wise men followed a star… and by fixing their eyes on a sign they were specifically prepared to translate, they found that it led them to a most unlikely place… and they didn’t question that seemingly arbitrary destination when they arrived. No, they just showed up, without questions, at an ordinary home on an ordinary day, knelt, and presented their gifts. They were ready, and found Him, like someone looking for a whisper in the noise of a bustling crowd.

I had a lot of ideas about what I wanted Christmas to be this year. They’re all so messed up, my ideas. But if I’m quiet and watchful, I’ll find that Christ is right here, in this ordinary busy-ness, just waiting for me to notice him. And if I encounter him, it won’t be because I’ve worked my way to that realization, or that I’ve followed some family tradition or formula (although when I participate in those things with a proper spirit, they can be of great help.) No, if I encounter him, it’ll happen because God is breaking through my fragmented attention, and giving me some grace. Because I can tell you, I am in no way ready to receive him this year. I’m going through the motions.

And yet I know he’ll be there. He’s already been there today, in the way sunlight is pouring into the house — the first sunlight that’s come through our windows in a while. In the phone calls from family. In the gifts from Anne. And above all, in the story that we read together, which is the same year after year, quietly insistent, gleaming like that Christmas star, waiting for me to put down all of the chaos I’ve made and to just follow it for a while… to see where it leads.

When I give thanks today, I’m more inclined to be thankful for what God has given me. The immediate, obvious blessings. But those are just reminders. They’re just signposts. They’re just allusions to the greater thing he has given to all of us, something that can’t be taken away by any amount of time or trouble. I’m sure thta Elizabeth and Zechariah were overjoyed to receive the unexpected blessing of a child of their own, especially considering their old age. You would think that their attention would be on their own blessing, on the miracle of it, on the thrill of being visited by an angel. But their greater joy was in what their own blessing meant in God’s larger plan… in what their child pointed them toward: another child, for another family… another miracle, and a greater, more humbling promise. In their humility, when they sang praises, they first praised God for Christ.

So no, I’m not going to be able to silence the storm I’ve stirred up. But if I am silent in the midst of the storm, I’m assured that I’ll be able to grasp and appreciate once again that which will outlast the storm… and save me even from the trouble that I daily cause. The gifts I receive today, from light and music and friendship and family and feasting, they’re all just a parade of reminders, echoes of a shout.

Today, I am seeking quiet, so I can receive that gift properly and attentively all over again.

It’s rather wonderful, how Christ taught us to receive him. We don’t need some elaborate charade. We need bread. Wine. A word. An image.

How silently. How silently. In so many quiet, different ways, to so many different people.

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