In It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty and her friend Marcie argue about who will play the role of Mary in the annual Christmas pageant. Since their teacher already asked Marcie, she’s sure it will be her. But such trivial facts never bother Peppermint Patty; she says: “I’m going to ask the teacher if I can be Mary in the Christmas play this year.” Marcie answers, “She already asked me, sir.” As if she hadn’t heard Marcie, Patty says, “I think I’ll be great in the part.” Marcie repeats, “She asked me yesterday.” Ignoring her, Patty goes on, “I really like the part where the angel Gabriel talks to me.” Frustrated, Marcie blurts out, “Why would Gabriel talk to you? You never listen!”
There’s more than a little bit of Peppermint Patty in some of us; we’re so full of our own ideas about how things should be that it’s hard for us to hear from the angels. The volume on our own plans is turned up so high that it drowns out the news of God’s surprising and transforming dreams for us.
For some of us, it’s not so much our own ideas and plans, but our anxiety and fear which keep us from hearing. Gnawing worry makes it hard to hear “good news of great joy.”
For some of us, it’s the pace and pressure, or the 24/7 stream of noise and images, or the constant bombardment of messages, all marked “urgent, for immediate attention.” In an 1890 Christmas column for the New York World, Mark Twain wrote:
It’s my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us—the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage—may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss—except the inventor of the telephone.
These days, we might add, “except the inventor of the smart-phone, email, and text messaging. There are so many clamoring demands and jangling distractions. No wonder it’s hard for us to hear “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace.”
Thankfully, the good news keeps coming to us. Bethlehem was not the kind of place you’d expect the God of the universe to appear, but in that unlikeliest of places, Jesus was born. Christmas means God can show up anywhere, including in our lives, our families, our circumstances, and our communities.
Since the “sign” of God’s presence into human history was a baby, wrapped in bands of cloth, and lying in an animal feeding trough, God is likely to speak to us through the tender, vulnerable, and needy people in the world—the people who, like an infant, need our care and nurture. And, it is in our own experiences of vulnerability and availability that Jesus is born, and born again, in us.
That good news—that God comes to us anywhere and everywhere, especially in the places and experiences we least expect—is the news the angels want us to hear. A little quiet would help! Maybe that’s why we sing “Silent Night” . . .