I woke in the middle of the night, sensing something was wrong. Beyond the bedroom door, I could see light, where there shouldn’t have been any.
It came from our living room. We had forgotten to turn off the lights on the Christmas tree.
I could have turned them off, and fumbled through deeper darkness back to bed. But I didn’t. I settled into an easy chair, and sank into a reverie.
Joan and I had decorated that tree, earlier that day. Every ornament had its story. The spire on top, that she remembers from her childhood. Glass balls accumulated, year after year. Delicate brass symbols bought on trips to Europe. Fabric decorations she painstakingly embroidered…
We didn’t have any of those when we started life together. Just tinsel, that we hung strand by strand. And walnuts, sprayed gold, for balls. And paper snowflakes stuck to our windows with Saran wrap.
The first Christmas I can remember, I was four. In India. Where Christmas trees don’t grow naturally. So we had a potted evergreen on our back porch. A very large pot. We had to tip it on its side to bring it in through the back door.
After we moved to Vancouver, I cut a wild tree, every year. With my little hatchet. I told myself the tree was glad to give up its life for its special role.
My parents followed a British custom, I suppose, of not decorating the tree until Christmas Eve, after I had gone to bed. Christmas morning I rushed downstairs to find the tree resplendent in bells and icicles, with brightly wrapped presents underneath.
Later, I helped to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. It became a family ritual.
A parade of recollections
Then followed 58 years with Joan, as our own Christmas customs evolved. Playing favourite records -- vinyl LPs, back then. And playing games with the children on the living room carpet. (Joan’s best pots and pans didn’t survive a particularly vigorous game of corks. If you’ve never played corks, the primary rule is to keep your fingers out of the way!)
Stomping through thigh-deep snow to cut a Christmas tree on a tree-farm, with the farmer’s Saint Bernard hitching a ride on the tail ends of my snowshoes.
Singing Silent Night by candlelight.
Almost 80 years of memories.
And not all joyful.
The first Christmas after our son died, we tried to fill the hole in our lives by filling the house with guests.
The Christmas I had no job, no income, and no prospects.
The last Christmas in a house that had been home for 25 years, that we knew we were going to leave behind -- along with a lot of friends.
Now we’ve been 25 years in this house. And someday -- not too soon, I hope -- we’ll leave it too, as the demands of house and yard exceed our capabilities.
A variation on the words of John’s gospel came to mind: “The lights shone in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to put them out.”
The dog padded in to see what I was doing. She laid her head in my lap.
I left the lights on a little longer.
Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Thank you, dear readers, for sharing your own Christmas creche experiences.
Rob Dummermuth’s church also “lost a plywood cut-out sheep to dubious characters one night. I placed an ad on the local store notice board asking if anyone had seen our missing sheep. Over the next week we were offered several real sheep to replace our runaway! I was much impressed that so many people from distant properties were interested in supporting our nativity scene.
Richard Broome, Dorothy Haug, and Isabel Gibson just sent their appreciation for that column.
David Gilchrist forwarded an anonymous story from the Internet: “It was the day after Christmas at a church in San Francisco. The pastor of the church noticed that the baby Jesus was missing from among the nativity figures. He hurried outside and saw a little boy with a red wagon and in the wagon was the figure of the little infant Jesus.
“So he walked up to the boy and said, ‘Where did you get your passenger, my friend?’
“The boy replied, ‘I got him at church.’
“‘And why did you take Him?’
The boy explained, ‘Well, about a week before Christmas I prayed to the little Lord Jesus and I told Him if He would bring me a red wagon for Christmas I would give Him a ride around the block in it.’”
Two writers shared photos of their own unique nativity scenes. I’d include the pictures, but it would add too many megabytes for sending out this e-mailing.
John Halford’s picture was of a life-size silhouette of a very pregnant Mary.
And John Willems wrote: “Christmas never arrives until our African nativity figures come out. It’s my favourite of five we put out at various locations in our house. It just looks normal with everyone squatting on their haunches, contrasted against so many modern western [portrayals] of ancient eastern traditions.”
Bob Rollwagen tries to include a time element, recognizing that the Magi may have arrived in Bethlehem up to two years after Jesus’ birth: “In my crèche , I put them and the camels off to a corner so you can see them coming, and I leave the shepherds in the field. We hide Jesus until Christmas Eve.”
Wayne Irwin thought about the words of Silent Night: “I am reminded of a cousin, back in the day, who always put a roly-poly figure in among the others in his crêche. When asked who that was, his reply would be: ‘That's round John Virgin!’”
And now may I wish you all a Merry Christmas!
The lectionary offers me a choice of Mary’s Magnificat in Luke, or Psalm 80:1-7. I used the Magnificat fairly recently, so I’m going with Psalm 80 this time -- this paraphrase seems appropriate for the onset of winter.
1 As a tulip bulb buried beneath the earth senses the warmth of spring,
As a lilac bud swells with sap, ready to burst into leaf,
2 so your people wait for your coming.
Do not delay, we beg you.
3 Thaw our frozen hearts;
give us courage to risk sending out new shoots.
4 Don't keep us closed in endless winter.
5 We have been locked too long in lifeless night.
6 No one believes there is life left in us.
7 Send some summer into our lives, God.
We wait for you.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,”an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony”-- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’sreaders. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet