It’s one of my favorite nights of the year. Inevitably, on Christmas Eve sometime around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I find myself at the mall. Working. And inevitably, sometime around 6:15 pm, I find myself trying to drag my father home or to wherever we’re going for familial celebrations. Which is why I always close on Christmas Eve.
This year, however, is different. My father has worked until midnight or later for the past seven days. He left long ago to go home and sleep before our evening leftovers and christmas cookie fest. For everyone in my family – this Christmas season has been a strain. I’ve been working nearly every day, and in the holiday throngs of shoppers – which is doubly tiring. Every year, I think that this year THIS YEAR HAS to be the worst year of holiday carnage I’ve EVER seen. The mall parking lot gets worse and worse (we actually had an accident outside our gallery resulting in the paramedics being called this year). People get grumpier and grumpier. Consumerism gets more and more prevalent. And now a huge debate over Christmas versus the holidays in generic generalityness. All in all, Christmas has been exhausting.
This isn’t a favorite night of the year because I have a cush time at work. The customers are usually few and far between after four o’ clock – having gone to their own celebrations. It isn’t a favorite night because of the anticipation of Christmas Day. I don’t particularly enjoy the attention receiving gifts brings to me. And it isn’t a favorite night because of the familial traditions I can enjoy year after year despite changes. My extended family never gets together on the holidays.
Christmas Eve is a favorite night because of the peace. Just as inevitably I am closing on this night, it is quiet in the mall. The few frenzied shoppers left are silent in their quest for that one last gift. It’s the night for soft Christmas music – the Silent Nights, the Away in a Mangers. Tomorrow morning brings the Joy to the Worlds, and Jingle Bells. Tonight is a time for stillness and silence and remembrance. It’s a time for rest.
I am burned out. I have worked almost to my breaking point, broken the bank for the point of spending on presents, and just about broke my patience having to drive people from point A to point B this week. I’ve grown tired of hearing the mayhem in the mall and fighting for a spot to park my car. I don’t want to travel anywhere or see anyone or do anything. All I want to do is sleep in tomorrow morning, but I know around 8 am I will hear running feet and teenage voices yelling for me to get up and I’ll think “oh man, it begins.”
Two thousand years ago, Mary probably was thinking the same thing I am. Oh man, just let me sleep. She’d been stuck on a donkey traveling for days and might’ve been promising herself she’d never ride one of those stupid animals again. There was nowhere to stay and nowhere to rest but a cave and a pile of hay. And considering the census, it was probably loud and chaotic in Bethlehem. She was sore and tired and I’m guessing just a little grumpy since she’d just had a baby. And then angels show up. And then shepherds. And I’m sure all she wanted to do was lie down and have everyone leave her alone so she could look at her baby and her king until she passed out from sheer fatigue. And she knows this is just the beginning. Tomorrow someone will wake her up and she’ll think “oh, now it begins.” Because He’s still a baby.
Things haven’t changed as much as you’d think.
Sure, now we hear the echo of car horns and alarms instead of angels’ chrouses. We still give gifts in honor of our King. Many of us still travel long distances even though we may not want to. There are plenty of “inns” but never any parking spaces for you when you’re late for work. People in large groups are just as loud now as they were 2,000 years ago – even if they’re in a mall instead of a market. There are still stars shining brightly above us. Even though now some of them are electric green, blue, red, orange, and yellow instead of pure cosmic white.
The night is still quiet and holy. There is still the amazing concept of God made man but still God. There is still worship despite the world’s raucous attempts to stamp it out.
And there is still Peace. Because even though He is no longer a baby, but grown and dead and resurrected and ascended, He is still here for us out of love.