On interstates, highways and back country roads, families travel from distances both far and near to reunite with their loved ones, while in homes of every variety, families prepare to receive the Christmas guests. Christmas trees, brightly lit with tiny lights, twinkle in windows both warm and inviting, beckoning to all who pass by to stop in for a cup of Christmas cheer, while in town squares all over, last-minute shoppers hurry to find that final, all-important gift, that perfect scarf or that shiny pair of earings…or perhaps that extra toy that will make some special child’s Christmas complete….and all over, a feeling of good will, peace and joy lingers in the air like the aroma of freshly baking Christmas cookies, invigorating the senses and heightening the anticipation of the coming Christmas.
As we look in one window, we see Mother smile as she bakes a Christmas pie, keeping one eye on the window for arriving relatives and the other on the children as they play and talk of things soon to come. In the backyard barn, we see Father working quickly and quietly as he puts the finishing touch on a shiny new bicycle or the last roof shingle on a brightly colored doll house, always pausing to listen for the sound of the children’s voices, then turning back to his work to finish those items too large to fit in Santa’s sleigh.
With the crunch of tires turning in, we see a car pull into the driveway and hear the excited voices of the children as they run out, screaming “Merry Christmas Grandma” and “Merry Christmas Grandpa” while Mother stands waving in the doorway and Father surreptitiously locks the barn door and comes out to greet the grandparents. Grandma’s chocolate cake is carefully carried into the kitchen as Grandma and Grandpa are given an honor guard escort into the house by their happy, excited grandchildren.
Once inside, they look on with an attentive gaze as the children show them every ornament on the Christmas tree and explain each one’s unique story. Some are newer, with twinkling lights and sound effects; others are old, some handed down from one generation to the next but each with a story that reads like a new book from one Christmas to the next. The Christmas lights glitter; the fire roars in the fireplace; the cat sleeps quietly on the sofa and the light outdoors gradually grows dimmer with the short days of December now at their zenith.
As the darkness begins to fall, new colors start to emerge and new sounds are heard. Stain glass windows, from the country chapel to the city cathedral, glow with the light of candles while the sounds of the church choirs tuning up their voices or the strains of Christmas hymns beckon to all who pass by to come and worship. The families come, some by car and some on foot, dressed in their winter best, somber black overcoats made livelier by festive Christmas ties or a bright red sweater and scarf, stamping snow from their feet and finding a place to sit in the crowded pews.
The church bell rings, its clear notes carrying through the cold winter air, sending one last notice to remind the latecomer to hurry into the warmth of the church and the company of their fellow worshipers, now bowing their heads in prayer. The children assemble, dressed in robes of white with glittery halos and crooked angel wings while a miniature Joseph and a tiny Mary look down on the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a makeshift manger. A message is given and the bread and cup are shared, symbolic and ancient in tradition but meaningful in different ways to each who partakes.
As the piano plays, songs that have been sung for centuries are lifted in common voice, singing of Joy to all the World, of Peace on earth and Good Will toward men. On one row, a small child, trying hard to remember the words holds tightly to the hand of an old adult whose arthritic hands can no longer hold the heavy song book but whose memory of every verse makes it makes it completely unnecessary anyway. When the service is over, each one leaves, lost in thought and carrying newfound meanings from the scriptures and messages of old, making their way home for the Christmas Eve.
The evening meal is taken, a teasing taste of the great feast to follow the next day and the family gathers now, in the late evening hours for happy talk of nostalgic Christmases past, of favorite toys and cherished memories, brought to life once again, each remembrance savored and then put carefully away in the heart to be brought out again when the time is just right and the spirit is in the air. Traditions are carefully observed and thoughts turn to the ones who started them, the dear ones that are no longer here in person but who are very present in spirit, the craft of their hands displayed from the boughs of the Christmas tree, their influence and love ever-present and always felt.
In the background, perhaps a Christmas carol plays softly from the radio or the sounds of George Bailey’s shouts of “Merry Christmas Bedford Falls!” rings from the television set as the children lie in their beds, struggling to keep their eyes open and knowing that they just can’t sleep this night, yet sleep comes to claim them nonetheless. A plate of cookies, a glass of milk, a note to Santa, all wait on the dining room table while in the window, a solitary candle burns with pure light, shining forth in a darkness that cannot overcome it.
From the heights of the sky, the fluffy snowflakes fall, covering the landscape in a layer of white as the frosted window panes distort the colorful Christmas tree lights into a virtual kaleidoscope of colorful and delicate patterns. Throughout the town and around the world, a feeling of peace and good will envelope the town like a warm, woolen blanket under which all rest.
Christmas is coming….it will soon be here….each one special, each one to be remembered, one of many in a long string of those that have come before and those that will come afterwards. We anticipate the coming of Christmas, the significance of remembering the birth of Christ and celebrating it with all the joy in our hearts, showing compassion for our fellow human beings, in the giving of gifts to others and the receiving of the gift of Christ in our hearts and in our lives. However you celebrate the holiday season, may the joy of the holiday season find you and keep you and yours, throughout Christmas and in all the year ahead.