Advent is a busy time in the life of anyone, let alone a pastor. A hospital was the last place I ever planned to be during the weeks leading up to Christmas, with the exception of visiting other people. But one year, my body decided otherwise. And so, in mid-December, I lay under the surgeon’s knife for the second time in a year.
A hospital is not a haven of quiet and rest. It is anything but a peaceful place. I had a roommate who smoked in the bathroom and turned the lights and TV on in the middle of the night with no regard to my feeble attempts to sleep. Across the hall, an elderly woman with no idea where she was howled with pain and cried for help at least once every three minutes, day and night, day and night, day and night.
Without warning, a “code blue” sent emergency personnel and crash carts racing down the halls. And there was the ever-present beep-beep-beep of IV monitors and heart machines, and the loud conversations of medical personnel and visitors who don’t realize how loudly voices echo off hospital walls and bare floors.
One night as I lay in my hospital bed, hooked up to so many machines I couldn’t even move without help and close to tears from the pain and the frustration, I heard a faint sound. Amidst the cries of pain, blaring TVs, and beeping monitors, I swore I heard a different type of sound altogether: a soft, sweet, gentle song. Then it was gone. Was I imagining things? That was entirely possible with all the medications coursing through my veins.
A few hours later, still awake and trying to block out the sounds of the woman wailing across the hall and the loud, angry voice of my roommate swearing on the telephone, I heard the strange, beautiful sound again. Could it possibly be? No, I must be hearing things.
When the nurse came in to check my vitals, I asked her: was it me? Or was there indeed a very different sound breaking through the harshness of that place?
“Oh,” she said, as she wrapped the blood-pressure cuff around my bruised arm. “It’s a tradition here. Every time a baby is born in the nursery, they play Brahms’ lullaby on the loudspeakers.”
A lullaby on the loudspeakers.
Floating through the harshness of those halls – a lullaby.
And right then, for the first time since I had come through the emergency room of that hospital, I smiled, albeit weakly.
I felt hopeful.
I felt peace.
Lullaby on the loudspeakers: a baby is born!
During the remaining time I spent in the hospital, I listened for the sound of that lullaby. Amidst the horrible sounds of pain and misery that surrounded me, I strained to hear the sound of hope, of life, of new beginnings. Lullaby on the loudspeakers. A child is born.
And I thought of another lullaby, which broke into the sounds of the night nearly two thousand years ago, and in my heart, I heard the whisper of angels’ wings:
Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Do not be afraid, for over the sounds of people weeping and IVs beeping and bombs bursting, over the cries of pain and suffering and sorrow, there is a heavenly lullaby: Do not be afraid – I bring you good news, which is for all people.
I wonder sometimes why so few people heard the news of Christ’s birth: why only one band of shepherds heard the voice of the angel and the multitude of the heavenly host; why only a few wise men knew to follow the star; why, among the hundreds of people in Bethlehem that night, only a few wondered at what the shepherds told them.
And I think the answer is right there in the words of the Scripture that tells us, Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Because the lullaby of good news that breaks into the world cannot be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears or perceived with the mind: it is most deeply understood when we treasure the words, and ponder them in our hearts.
The good news is heard most clearly when we allow it to seep into the broken places where we are most in need of healing. It is not into a world of peace that we need Christ to be born, but into a world in need of peace. Lullaby on the loudspeakers! Unto us is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Breaking through the ordinary sounds of life and death is the rush of wings, the stumbling steps of shepherds, the soft cries of a baby, the sound of God singing to the world a lullaby to announce the birth of his only Son: Good news! Good news. The Savior of the world is born. Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Whenever I am in the hospital, as a pastor or as a patient, I listen now for the sound of the lullaby on the loudspeakers. It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, my heart sings for joy.
Lullaby on the loudspeakers! Into this world, a Savior is born! It is Christ, the Lord.
Kathleen Bostrom is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) since 1983. She and her husband, Greg, have served as co-pastors of Wildwood Church in Wildwood, Illinois, since 1991. She has published numerous articles in various journals and newspapers and is the author of more than a dozen books for children.