For the month of December, we are featuring essays around the theme A Quiet Christmas.
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They say “beauty will save the world”, and I know it’s true. I know how beauty stands alone in the dark, in the quiet, and holds out hope for redemption to a world looking for a fix.
I’ve held it while the world has slept on and spun round and out of control. I’ve held this kind of beauty in the palm of my hands, tiny and helpless and completely dependent on me. In the bend of my arm, the squeeze of my embrace, and in my lap as we crossed oceans and continents after our adoption, beauty that saves the world has been mine to hold.
Those first days at home are a special kind of quiet—not silence, necessarily, but permission to check-out of life, all the whirling world excusing your absence and even bringing you meals. I remember the first days with each baby and how tired, how depleted I was, yet how full. Life was a cycle of waking-feeding-changing-sleeping, and no one cared how the house fell apart. The dark of night or early morning covered some of the most tender times, as well as tears and frustration and great worries about tomorrow.
This is how Christmas feels to me. We celebrate quietly, with a few traditions that are easy to carry on: a slumber party in the living room Christmas Eve, movies until the last person falls asleep, stockings Christmas morning, and a special family breakfast and reading of the Christmas story before heading to the grandparents’. We are generally exhausted Christmas day due to the late night and the sugar-load of peanut butter fudge and eggnog, but we keep these traditions because that’s what anchors us as a family. It’s what we do.
We don’t overcomplicate our celebration of God Who Came to Dwell, yet I’m often tempted to, worried that I’m not doing enough. Christmas holds its own tears and frustrations and worries, and no matter how simple I want to keep it, there is always a world of potential Christmas-magic that I am leaving unexplored.
I’m tempted by beautiful Advent celebrations but I always fail. I love handmade gifts but rarely follow through. Some years I send cards and family updates but most years I don’t, and this year, if I do send out a letter, our family picture will be all of us squeezed in next to a sweaty #32 after my son’s football game.
I don’t excel at grand parties or elaborate plans.
Celebrations are usually loud and full of frenzy, wrapped up with good intentions and the frayed last-nerves of people who are adding to their already busy lives. Every year that I try to do more, to make it ‘more special’, I’m reminded that the beauty whose birth we are celebrating did not bring chaos and wish-lists. The countdown to Christmas is not about the number of days we have left to shop, but the number of ways we can quiet and slow down and remember.
Let it be my excuse this year: we are keeping things simple and quiet because we need a break from the normal pace of life.
The beauty that ultimately saves the world came in the quietest way—a baby born to parents with empty hands, breaking the barrier between heaven and earth in the humble way we all do. He came with nothing more than an expectation that we were His, that He would give his living and dying for us, and that we would see His Father’s glory in Him and through Him.
He came as a light when all the world was shouting for victory over darkness, just like all of our children come with hope fresh in their lungs. Quietly into the night, with stars to point the way and angels to give the clues and wise men to keep the secrets, He slipped into skin.
The joy of men was obscure and lowly. I imagine Mary had her own tears and frustrations and worries about tomorrow, but she wasn’t fretting over ways to make the day any more special than it already was. A child was born. She was the first to rejoice.
We can’t slow the spin of the world or completely remove the frenetic push of life, but we can break ties with the noisy upkeep of appearances and expectations. Do the Advent activities if you want. Make thousands of cookies. Send hundreds of cards. Choose the memories and traditions that bring joy to a chaotic life, and let the day be special because a child was born into the quiet of an exhausted mother’s heart.
Tresta is a lifelong-learner who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and 4 kids, surrounded by mountains and rivers and the best little community one could ask for. She writes about balance, perspective, and simplicity at trestapayne.com, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.