Before the marvel of this night
Adoring, fold your wings and bow
Then tear the sky apart with light
And with your news the world endow….
Sing peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace.
The words of that lesser-known carol kind of boggle the mind, to think of how angels, tearing the sky apart, could sing of peace… and expect to keep their audience. St. Luke tells us that the presence of the one angel—perhaps Gabriel—appearing to the shepherds made them “sore afraid”! He doesn’t say what the impact was when the angel was joined by the multitude of the heavenly host all praising and glorifying God! But we can well imagine! They sing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” Dazzling peace, angelic, spectacular, other-worldly peace! Scary peace!
For us, when the skies are torn apart it means fear, not peace. When the skies are torn apart destruction soon follows—nature’s storms and man’s terrors. Peace is not the word that comes to our minds when we think of the skies torn apart! And we jerk instinctively at any sudden movement coming from a skyward direction. Ah…perhaps there is a clue here.
While Christmas is inconceivable without the angels, the gift of peace does not come from them! They are the messengers of peace; not the gift of that peace. The gift lies in the manger— Mary’s firstborn Son, wrapped in swaddling clothes, the Prince of peace.
Thus, when we sing of the angels, our music is glorious, boisterous, angelic. When we sing of shepherds the carols sound humbler, hastening. When we sing of the Wise Men in Epiphany it is regal and mysterious. But when we sing our carols about the manger…they get very quiet. Quiet. Simple. Peaceful! Candlelight peaceful.
Oh…but right here…right here in the midst of this silent night, this holy night…right here we must walk gently. As the poet, T.S. Eliot, once wrote, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
Especially on this night when reality has battered us into seeking once again the deep peace of Christmas; living as we must in these days among the perpetually offended, enduring the strange little war between the critics of Christmas and its defenders, who both alike can snarl and get so very ugly.
In here, we who have been bludgeoned by reality, we needs must speak tenderly, very tenderly, about the greater reality that draws us. Or else…our wounded spirit, our faith so overborne by reality, risks tipping into that deadlier silence from which we might not ever escape.
The peace of this Christmas Eve carries us to its twin; gently, tenderly, peaceably carries us to that other time of quiet darkness and candles, of peace fulfilled….the night of Good Friday.
In art world the sculptures of the Madonna holding her Child are paired with the Pietas—Mary holding the lifeless body of her crucified Son. The newborn Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes mirrors the newly crucified Man swaddled in linen and spices. The manger, rude and bare, reflects the tomb, where the Lord Jesus will again lay down His sweet head.
For the peace of Christmas is the peace of Good Friday. “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through…” This Child who is born for me, for you. He is our peace. And all the quiet candlelight of this holy night shines with the peace of that other night, that Friday night we call Good, when afterwards the angels who first the sky their Glorias will return to a split tomb with their Alleluias.
Now this is a lot to ponder so late in the evening…even if our jangled spirits have been soothed somewhat by the wassail spirit. But do you hear? Without the peace of that Friday, when the skies were torn apart by the terrible cry of the Crucified One, without that peace, we cannot know the peace of this quiet night, nor any peace in the midst of our own sky-tearing cries.
So tonight the One who committed Himself into His mother’s hands at birth, who committed Himself into His Father’s hands at death, tonight He commits Himself into your hands—“Take, eat, My Body; Take, drink, My Blood”—into your hands He commits Himself. And the gentle peace of the manger wedded with the eternal peace of the cross, becomes your peace tonight.
So come tomorrow, whether the skies are torn apart, or the mountains tumble into the depths of the sea…we shall not fear. The peace of Christmas, the peace of the Cross, are here together for you and with you and in you. Merry Christmas!