Completing the Work of Christmas

There is so much pain and darkness in life that sometimes we need to look diligently for inspiration in the daily round of living.

Yme Woensdregt

In my last two columns, I’ve written about people or events which serve to make life better and more bearable. There is so much pain and darkness in life that sometimes we need to look diligently for inspiration in the daily round of living.

As I wrote in my first column, I do this because I believe deeply that this is how God works in the world—through ordinary men, women and children who seek to make a difference. I don’t look for the miraculous. Rather, I am learning to look in all the ordinary nooks and crannies of life to see moments of hope and times of joy.

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once defined a saint as someone “whose life manages to be a cranny through which the infinite peeps.” That’s what I’m talking about—ordinary people through which mystery shines.

Leonard Cohn also has a brilliant line in his poem “Anthem”: “Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Through the cracks in our lives, the divine infinite manages to peep into the world. In our brokenness, the light of wholeness and justice shines. This, for me, is the work of God, God at work in us.

Let me give one more example. Vedran Smailovic was the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra and was widely recognized as an exceptionally talented musician.

On May 27, 1992, at 4 pm, in the midst of one of the most horrifying civil wars in recent history, a mortar shell dropped in the middle of Sarajevo, hitting a line of people who were waiting to pick up their daily bread ration. Twenty–two people were killed, and many more injured.

Smailovic’s small apartment was across the square from where the bomb dropped. He looked out of his window to find flesh, blood, bone, and rubble splattered over the area. It was the moment he knew he had had enough.

He was enraged; but he also felt helpless to do anything about the violence tearing his land apart. What could he do to stop the war? He could think of nothing, yet he also knew he couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. By dawn the next day, he had decided to do what he knew best.

Every afternoon after that at 4 pm, Smailovic walked to the middle of the street where the massacre had occurred. He was dressed formally, as for a performance. He sat on a battered camp stool placed in the crater made by the shell, his cello in his hand, playing music. Mortar shells and bullets flew all around him, yet he played on, a symbol of hope in a desperate place.

For 22 days, one for each of the people killed, Smailovic played in the same spot. He played to ruined homes, smouldering fires, scared people hiding in basements. He played for human dignity that is the first casualty in war. Ultimately, he played for life, for peace, and for the possibility of hope that exists even in the darkest hour. Asked by a journalist whether he was not crazy doing what he was doing, Smailovic replied: “You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello; why do you not ask if they are not crazy for shelling Sarajevo?”

Smailovic continued to play his music until December 1993, in graveyards and bombsites. He had decided to “daily offer a musical prayer for peace.” He became a powerful symbol of hope.

Smailovic, and all the others I’ve mentioned, and all those who live in such powerful hope, remind me of the short poem by Howard Thurston:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.”

Whether or not we believe in God, whether we agree in our different beliefs or not, my prayer is that we may all be part of this hopeful, powerful task of finishing the work of Christmas, all of us making music in the heart … and in the world.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook