“Christmas Eve Remembered” by Mark W. Harris – December 24, 2007
Christmas Eve 2007
Annie Dillard , An American Childhood
Late at night on Christmas Eve, my mother carried us each to our high bedroom, and darkened the room, and opened the window, and held us awed in the freezing stillness, saying – – and we could hear the edge of tear in her voice — “Do you hear them? Do you hear the bells, the little bells, on Santa’s sleigh?” We marveled and drowsed, smelling the piercingly cold night and the sweetness of Mother’s warm neck, hearing in her voice so much pent emotion, feeling the familiar strength in the crook of her arms, and looking out over the silent streetlights and chilled stars over the rooftops of the town. “Very faint, and far away – can you hear them coming?” And we could hear them coming, very faint and far away, the bells on the flying sleigh.
Christmas Eve Remembered
Like Annie Dillard, Christmas Eve was always a magical time for me growing up. My father was the story teller in our family, and because five years separated me from my other three siblings, I was the happy recipient of his sole attention long after my brothers and sister stopped wondering about when Santa would arrive at our house. I have never listened so intently in all my life. Dad would speak about Santa readying his sleigh, and I would picture a mountain of toys, and reindeer stomping with their hooves while breathing streamers of frosty air. What I waited for of course was that moment when he would visit my family. Behind our house was a huge pasture, with darkness covering the woods beyond, and moonlight reflected on the fir trees half way across the expanse of field. It snowed more then, or at least that’s my memory, (kind of like this year), and so the field always literally glistened in the moonlight as the whipped cream mounds of snows curved up and down below my window and out on the back lawn. But I never expected Santa to appear while I was looking out the window on this scenery below. I had the impression that if you looked, Santa would instantly disappear from sight. And so I could only imagine this sleek red sleigh, gliding across the snow covered field with tinkling bells, and quietly snorting reindeer with the merry driver planning his next stop of countless visits to boys and girls all over the world. This was the scene in my mind’s eye. All I could do was lay there after my father had recounted the tale of Santa’s annual return to our rural home. My ears strained and strained to just hear some inkling that this was the moment when he went by. My ears were so tense and my eyes so squinted. I would lay and listen. Lay and listen. Do you hear the sound beyond quiet? (pause – close your eyes and listen)
Finally, I would pass off to sleep, only to awaken to the wonder of Christmas morn, and the question, did he come? Even though Santa always did come with toys and candy that made me happy, it was that magic of the night before that I remember best. The night is that holy time, full of wonder and mystery. The star that signaled Jesus’ birth was seen at night. On another dark, cold night something special was about to occur. Maybe it was the same way the three kings or the shepherds felt as they approached the stable. It was that glorious anticipation, the sheer excitement that something incredibly great was gong to happen. Of course, eventually my dad stopped coming into my room with his wondrous tale of an overloaded sleigh gliding by my window. But I still dream about magical moments. I still wait in wonder and listen in anticipation. And I hear the hints of something wondrous happening – of human caring, of love come to flesh. This night let us remember, just as Jesus’ two parents hovered over him and dreamed dreams of what his future might be on this holy night. Nine months of anticipation to give birth to new hope and joy. I remember a story of wonder from one I loved, and I give thanks that there are those in our lives who help us dream dreams, who give us encouragement, and affirm us, who give us hope, and prepare us for the miracles that can come into our lives. They are the bearers of faith and joy. Those who wrap the gifts and hang the lights anticipate the labors of the season. Those who light the candles and remember in silence those who have gone before anticipate the quiet of the season. Those who hold the hand of another (as I invite you to do now), anticipate some difficult trial of life, and bring healing to lonely and grieving hearts. All are the bearers of hope that something wonderful is about to occur. Who knows what it may be? The story comes back to me on Christmas eve – anything can happen, and the excitement is not that it does, but in the believing that it is possible. May we believe in a future where wars cease, and we care for the earth, where we care for each other, and anticipate with great wonder the future we have together.
So many beautiful images cross our minds as we prepare to celebrate this holiday. The greens in our homes reminding us the sun will return, and light, and growth will come again, even in seasons of darkness and pain. Gifts under the tree and stockings hung with joy reminding us that sometimes we need to wait, be patient for promises still to come, and in time new opportunities, new relationships will occur in our lives. Singing together, carols raised in joy, lifting our voices together in common harmony reflecting the connections we make touching hearts and minds and souls. All these preparations have brought us to this night. Now we listen expectantly for the sounds that will herald the coming of this new day – the bells of joy, the carols of praise, the flickering candles of dreams, the loving words we speak to those who need our care. May the dreary and the cold be overthrown by the place in our hearts waiting birth. Let the promise of finding that which is lost guide us to heal wounds of misunderstanding or regret. Grant us peace with the world and peace in our lives. O sweet sounds of the season, flow over us and in us – Bells of new life and love, bells of gratitude, bells of peace. (RING) Amen.