As I turned down the streets of my neighborhood, the cold air caught my breath and reminded me to consciously breathe in the frosty air and be grateful that I was alive. As the gently falling snow cooled my burning cheeks, I thought about how Christmas always brought out the best in me, those feelings of charity, the thankfulness that I had good friends and family, the infinite blessings that accompanied the birth of Jesus Christ.
As I walked, I did not miss a single Christmas wreath hung on a front door, an inflated Snowman waving in the soft breeze or a window whimsically stenciled with snowflakes and stockings. Sometimes, if I walked the same path in the early evening, I might even be able to catch a glimpse through a lamplit window of a family playfully trimming their Christmas tree. Everyday during the Christmas season I took the same route that led me to the village church a few miles away, its steeple always in view, virtuously presiding high over our small country town. My walk was a ritual that was always filled with eager anticipation and emotional yearning. As I rounded the last corner of my journey, there it faithfully stood, a bright white church that gleamed against the crisp winter sky, its bell tower partially camouflaged against the snowy white clouds. As I approached the familiar front path, I paused to take in the magnitude of the precious panorama before me; it always made me gasp. There taking up the entire front lawn of the church was a Nativity scene so grand and realistically detailed that when I squinted my eyes, it would seem to come alive. When staring at the empty creche, I always felt relieved to know that after the midnight service on Christmas eve, baby Jesus would ceremoniously, once again, be placed into the waiting cradle and assume center stage.
I contemplated my own Christmas this year, empty of finances but rich with an over abundance of Gods good tidings and knew that there was not a gift in the world as precious as God’s presence in my life. Although it was disappointing to not be able to purchase presents for the family, I knew that the day would not be void of laughter and good cheer. Just a few ingredients in my scantily stocked pantry would yield grand results and turn my small home into a make-believe gingerbread world, full of gingerbread men chasing after dancing ballerina’s and running reindeer. The air would become intoxicating, each whiff of cinnamon and ginger offering the alluring comfort and anticipation of yet another Christmas filled with the aroma of pungent spices and flickering candlelight. Old puzzles, well worn games and books full of tales of old Saint Nicholas would be displayed on the oak sideboard, begging for family fun.
On this particular day, as the sky turned a brilliant pink and yellow at sunset, I made my familiar trek to once again feed my Christmas soul. The church was bathed in a deep amber hue that made it glow like a golden music box and when standing perfectly still, seemed to be chiming “Away In the Manger” to my longing ears. Thoughts of Christmas’s past with my four siblings began to surface, an unexpected nostalgic treat that seemed to offer me some well timed joy year after each year. It was a treasure trove of sweet memories; a mother and father who unselfishly doted on their family and made each Christmas special, even when times were tight. Homemade doll houses, trains, and knitted sweaters with snowflake motifs adorned the bottom of our tree, and as busy fingers tore open the brightly colored packages, bows flying in the air, smiling faces and laughter outshone the silvery sparkling of the heavily tinseled tree. As the last gift was opened, the small wooden Nativity set that had been carefully tucked underneath the tree, once again became prominent, a reminder that the birth of Christ was the most lasting and valuable gift of them all! The true happiness of the day was entirely due to his unfailing grace, mercy and omnipresent blessings.
As my eyes once again scanned the life-sized Nativity in front of me, my worries for America and the unsettling attack on Christianity diminished as the star at the top of the manger suddenly became brightly lit in the now darkened night. I knew that the light of Christ could never be extinguished by anyone, no matter how intrusive, unless I allowed that to happen. “Away in the Manger” still infused my senses and as I slowly walked away, I began to softly hum its tender words; “I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky and stay by my side ‘til morning is nigh.”
Merry Christmas to all…and remember to always keep the light of Christ, shining bright.