Originally published Saturday, 19 December 2020.
This phrase has a hold on me this year. “All is calm, all is bright.” My heart yearns for this.
You will recognize this second line of “Silent Night” describing the first Christmas. As we sing, we’re tempted to picture Mary and Joseph haloed in light in a nice clean stable, surrounded by serene animals, a shepherd or two, and a couple fluffy sheep. There is a holy hush over the scene as God looks down on the birth of His Son. But is that really how it was?
Realistically, no. Mary became an instant unwed mother and Joseph her silent partner—oh the gossip! They hardly got used to the idea when he and Mary were ordered to join thousands of others headed to their ancestral homes to pay taxes. They traveled ninety miles with a host of angry, oppressed Israelites.
The noise when they arrived at Bethlehem, crowded beyond capacity, would have been deafening. And in the stable—Mary panting, groaning, Joseph whispering encouragement, trying to squelch his own rising panic. All the while surrounded by cows, sheep, whatever animals now shared shelter with them.
Soon after Jesus’ birth a ragtag bunch of shepherds showed up (the Bible doesn’t say how many) and probably a few sheep they hesitated to leave behind. Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus—exhausted, dirty, hungry—entertaining smelly shepherds. Even though they came to worship, they brought more noise, more confusion.
It doesn’t fit our Christmas carol version, does it? Was Christmas ever calm?
Maybe that’s why we love this song so much; it describes what we yearn for most—to escape the frantic Christmas rush and bask in the light of God’s presence. Is it just a myth perpetuated by an idealistic songwriter?
Luke’s description of Mary touches me to the core: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She treasured up ALL these things. The grueling trip to Bethlehem, giving birth in a stable (assisted by her new husband whom she had not yet slept with), sharing a stable with a hodgepodge of animals, and greeting shepherds who arrive breathless to see the newborn King. After they left, it sounds to me like Mary was…CALM.
What was her secret? How can we treasure this season and stop to wonder at the miracle of God’s Son even when all around us is not calm?
It’s not going to come naturally. We will have to be intentional and diligent. Starting with Mary’s example and branching out, here are ten suggestions to help each of us experience a calm and bright December, and beyond.
1. Focus on the Big Picture
Mary knew from the moment of conception her child was God in the flesh. Compared to this knowledge, all inconveniences and hardships shrank in comparison. For those of us who have accepted Jesus as Lord, we bring Him to the world by His Spirit inside of us—giving, singing, comforting, and loving others in this dark and noisy world.
2. Actively Release Tension
Mary didn’t have much of a choice like we do. She had to travel, pregnancy, or no pregnancy. I can only imagine how exhausted she was at the end of every day! Exercise is one of our best ways, however, to relieve stress. Even though COVID restrictions make it harder to visit the gym, there are lots of ways to burn off Christmas tension—walk the neighborhood, wrestle with your kids, dance to Christmas music, and get your heart pumping.
3. Gaze at the Night Sky
I believe Mary found comfort in the night sky. This is a source of calm for me. I can’t stop staring at contrast of sparkling white stars against the black night sky. People all over the world can look up and feel the comforting presence of our Creator.
Perhaps Mary didn’t have the advantage of Lamaze classes or a doula to help her through childbirth, but I’m confident she learned how to breathe through the stress that came her way. I have a tendency to hold my breath when I’m anxious. So I have to be intentional about taking deep, oxygen-rich breaths. We can do this anywhere—at the stoplight, in line at the store, when we hear our kids fighting in the other room.
5. Let Peace Embrace
Ultimately, God’s embrace is our place of peace and where Mary got her strength. But God gives us additional places to re-group and refresh physically. Quiet Bible reading to start the day, extra-long hugs with those you love, pausing to look out the window at birds flitting to and fro, or wind in the branches of trees nearby. When we take a break to refocus God’s peace can embrace and fill us once again.
6. Limit Sugar and Caffeine
Cold weather is perfect for hot cider, lattes, and cocoa, and goodies are everywhere right now. But too much sugar and caffeine makes us edgy; each burst of energy is followed by a crash. We can still enjoy the treats of the season without suffering burnout if we plan ahead and savor smaller portions.
I’m amazed how much better I feel at the end of the day when I take regular stretch breaks. Stretching after long periods of sitting at the computer, in the car, or on the couch for a movie marathon relieves muscle tension, and promotes a sense of calm.
8. Go for the Green
Jesus is alive forevermore—He is evergreen. Other evidences of green are all around us—Christmas trees, holly, bushes, even houseplants—are good reminders of the life all believers have in Christ. He will never leave us; He daily bears our burdens; He is always interceding for us. All our heartache and stress today will pass away, but Jesus is forever.
Mary chose to treasure the events of Jesus’ arrival and quietly ponder them. She saw herself as the Lord’s servant and rejoiced in the part she played in His wonderful plan. What treasures we have to ponder too!
10. Pause for Music
It takes 3-4 minutes to sing or listen to “Silent Night.” My current favorite is Amy Grant’s smooth and worshipful rendition. I encourage you to find your favorite version and lean back to listen carefully or sing along.
Finding the calm of Christmas is not about having stress-free lives, but recognizing the fact that Light has come to our dark and needy world. And He, Immanuel, is with us still.
Beth Vice is a wife, author, speaker, mom, mother-in-law, grandma, and Jesus seeker. She loves taking care of her husband Kelly and the home they share on the Oregon coast. She teaches their Sunday morning small group and leads critique workshops at Oregon Christian Writers conferences, where she serves as the In-Person Critique Group Coordinator. Beth has six books currently available and is working on the next two—a divorce recovery book for women and a Bible study on Revelation. Beth has a heart for women; she has found new delight in leading retreats at she and Kelly’s vacation rental at Black Butte Ranch, and wherever else God might lead her. She blogs at Epiphany: http://www.bethvice.com/. Beth loves getting outside for hikes and gardening, but prefers snuggling inside with a good book or coffee with a friend, in nasty weather.