Perhaps you know this poem?
What is this life if full of care, We have no time to stand and stare. (W.H.Davies)
This, of course, is what the best kind of prayer is. Not rattling onto God about our problems and concerns, although of course God does care about them and is happy to listen. No, the best prayer is when we stop, and in the silence, in the space between words, listen to God. Now I say the space between words because silence doesn’t have to be empty of sound. Many people find complete silence over a long period pretty difficult which. We have special services here at St Peter’s called Adoration where we sit or kneel in silence for half an hour but few people come. Others however do pop into the Church through the side door which is always open in daylight hours, just for the silence and clearly find it some kind of help.
This Christmas I want to encourage you to find silence in the midst of your busy noisy life. We often sing at Christmas of the silence of Bethlehem – “Silent Night” or “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.” – but actually, outside that stable, all would have been bustle and noise, wouldn’t it? That’s why there was no room in the Inn! Even inside the stable, Mary and Joseph would have been talking to one another, and later to those visiting shepherds. The silence then was the silence within the words, a silence that we can only be part of if we are prepared to open our hearts to God.
But where do we find this God that we religious people talk about. Actually we need to realise that to find God, we need to look at ordinary things in more than one way. Let me explain. We might look at a beautiful sunset and explain it in terms of the rays of the setting sun being changed as we see them through the earth’s atmosphere. Meteorologist would do a better job than I can. Or we can look at the same sunset and be simply moved by its beauty. Or we might look at a man or a woman and see only just another human being. But if that person is someone we know or love, we see them completely differently. In the same way we can hear noise the sound of children playing for example, as either something to disturb and annoy us, or something that makes us happy.
The Christmas story then can be seen just as an incident in history, perhaps slightly exaggerated by those who wrote it up. It certainly would have been that way for most people around at the time – just another baby born in difficult circumstances – as many are being born today in many parts of the world. Or it can be seen as an event that changed the world, an event where God was present in a special way. It is the same for the whole of the life of Jesus – either a strange history of just one 1st Century holy man who got himself killed, or as the eternal power that is God present in a special and unique way in the life of one man, and then present thereafter in the group of friends he left behind who were soon called “Christians” – or “The Gathering” Ekklesia in Greek. The Church in English.
Yes. God is eternal. God is the power outside time and space, and yet this God, we proclaim at Christmas, chooses to meet us in time and space in ordinary things that have extraordinary significance. We can just look and listen to ordinary things and see and hear nothing extraordinary at all, but if we do we have missed out on a big meaningful chunk of life. Here in the Church of Jesus Christ we do what he taught us to do, to look and to understand, to listen and to hear. Find God in the beauty underlying all that we see, and in the silence underlying all noise We have to do both to sense the presence of God, and thus to be fully human.