(I wrote this for our writers group meeting last night, as we are putting together an anthology of Christmas stories. )
August was hot and steamy. Sweat trickled and tickled down spines and hair clung droopily to heads. I explained to some English guests with a craving for bracing “fresh air,” that flinging open the windows would not help at all. After a few days here they believed me.
I got into the habit of taking late evening walks with Molson, our golden retriever. Normally he bolts from the house like an arrow from a bow, but even he moved slowly on those sweltering August evenings, with the fields surrounding our village buzzing and humming with the rhythmic pulse of insect life, and the intoxicating scent of summer blooms hanging in the still air.
With my senses drenched in summer, I had Christmas on my mind one night late in August. I pondered the next third of the year and wondered how to get it right. Maybe if I started now, I thought, this year I might find the Christmas I long for; because I’m looking for it every year—the one with the joy and the peace the angels talked about. They appeared suddenly to the shepherds, and just as suddenly they were gone, but I remember their promise, “News of great joy...peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
Jesus said of the Kingdom of heaven, that it “Is like treasure hidden in a field.” That is the perfect metaphor for the treasure that is Christmas too, for it is also hidden, covered with earthiness; the sacred beneath the secular.
The forces of a powerful enemy work to obscure it. He’s been doing so from the beginning. I mean the very beginning; when he, that old serpent, the first proponent of suggestive selling, said, “See this fruit? You didn’t know you needed it but you can’t live without it. What you have with God? It’s not enough.”
At the root of Christmas Gone Wrong; for me, at least; is the anxiety of “not enough.” Drill down deeper and “I” am not enough; the simplicity of the manger in Bethlehem is not enough; no gift I buy is good enough. The angels’ good news of joy and peace lies buried in a field of the enemy’s innuendo. And I buy into the lie; adding layer upon layer that obscures the simplicity of Original Christmas.
Bethlehem was small; the guest list hardly impressive; the venue was minimalist in the extreme. I am a follower of one born there, who lived his life peacefully and powerfully, unencumbered by entrapments, but my life often does not reflect that so well.
Dusk was falling around me as Molson and I walked home that August night. I glanced at an old century home on the opposite side of the road. The steep gable of the Presbyterian manse pointed, as if to heaven and from a circular attic window twinkled two tiny lights; one red, the other green. Forgotten Christmas lights, or a message from God? I choose to believe that he heard my heart cry and was sending a signal back to let me know.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1903) of Philadelphia,
Note: The painting of the Bond Head Presbyterian Manse is hanging in the Bond Head post office right now., for sale. I think it's found a home!