By: Abby Watson
The world tells us to slow down during the holidays. Earthly sages write stress-free guides to Christmas-cookie decorating, gather their best “savor the small moments,” tips and tricks, or tell us to “simply practice being still.” If stillness were just a matter of self-will, a well-intentioned flick of the wrist, we wouldn’t need the same advice year after year. We’d be still by now! I need something more than the latest and greatest old news this Christmas season.
While magazines, secular blogs, and well-meaning friends may offer incomplete advice, their hearts are in the right place. Rest and stillness are part of God’s design for his people. God rests by example (Genesis 2:2) and God commands his people to rest (Psalm 46:10). Through word and deed, God reveals his good design to his people, communicating to us his “commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) Our craving for stillness even today is evidence of our desperation to get back to the world as it should be, to calm the anxious feeling that something is not right, even broken. We know there should be peace. We know we should be at peace. We just can’t seem to find it…
Nothing captures this feeling better than old Christmas hymns, which reveal truths and themes of Scripture even as they connect over the times and circumstances of every believer. How can a man in the 1800s write about Jesus’ birth in a way that resonates with a twenty-something woman in the 21st century? I don’t know. But what I do know is when I hear the words, “long lay the world in sin and error pining,” I’m a goner. Hymns like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” reference captivity and Satan’s tyranny over those who don’t know Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:4)- an idea that comes straight from Scripture. Then in the next breath, these hymns catch me in my humanity, speaking openly of daily life, referring to “life’s crushing load, toil, painful, slow.” I find relief in putting words to feelings I’ve had all year but haven’t known just how to say. As I sing these words, I confess my lack of peace, my longing for something better, for the world as it should be. It begs the question: is there any hope?
Here, again, hymns get me. In many of the songs we sing each Christmas, there’s an abrupt transition from darkness to light in music and lyrics. There’s no easing into hope or joy – it is bright, sudden, and unchangeable; something like a human birth. The classic carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High” questions this sudden turn to joy, asking, “shepherds, why this jubilee?” In your *insert darkness here* how can you rejoice? How wonderful to echo the shepherds who were “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard.” (Luke 2:20) We know now this joy comes because we are set free (Galatians 5:1), because salvation is here (Luke 19:9), because God is with us (Matt 1:23), because God keeps his promises (2 Corinth 1:20). We have this jubilee because “he comes to make his Blessings flow far as the curse is found.” (Joy to the World)
And where is the curse found? Uh, y’all, everywhere on this earth. A Savior who drowns such a curse with abundant blessing is a powerful Savior, one who can finally shake it. In Jesus, all God’s promises are “Yes” and “Amen.” (2 Corinthians 1:20) That rest God designed for us is not just one more behavioral trick out of our reach; it is a gift given and accessible through Jesus Christ our Lord. God told us to be still, and provided us a way to enter back into the world as it should be: He gave us Jesus. He Himself is our peace. (Micah 5:4, Ephesians 2:14)
So this Christmas, as you’re bombarded with messages about being still, remember Who brings the stillness. In a time when stillness is as slippery as an eel, Jesus does what we cannot do – makes us still before God. He enters our circumstances – full of weddings, unplanned pregnancies, government inconveniences, and religious tradition – to inspire “solemn stillness” (O Little Town of Bethlehem) and empower us to live in that stillness. These are truly tidings of comfort and joy.
The secret to peace this Christmas is not cultivating peace. It’s recognizing your limits and the One who has offered you life and life more abundantly. Emmanuel, God with Us!
Abby is a 20-something believer with a penchant for black coffee, Meg Ryan rom-coms, and overthinking. In a world that offers chains and calls them freedom, she is passionate about sharing the ways that Jesus offers life and life more abundantly. She loves putting that passion in action through the local church, in the non-profit world, and of course, as a Wholehearted Writer!