When I was a child, Christmas Eve was a magical evening. After eating a massive dinner was finished (there were seven of us, dinner was always massive, even when the money was not) and the dishes put away, we would all gather round the table again. Mom would dim the lights and light some candles while dad pulled out the ancient family bible. We were each given a wine glass (very special, since my parents didn’t drink) filled with grape juice and a portion of a cracker. Then it would begin. The magic. The old bible would creak and crack as my dad pulled back the cover and sifted through the pages to the book of Luke. His baritone voice would weave its way through the flicker of candle light as he read aloud the most wonderful story of all: the Christmas story. Though we’d all heard it a thousand times before, each year the rendition seemed new. Or maybe it was just that through the year as we’d grown and changed, our hearts picked up a new thread of story.
After he finished reading we would have communion, together as a family. Then, with joined hands, we prayed. Going around the table and each in turn we gave thanks for the year past, for our family and friends, for the blessings that had rained down since the previous holiday season. And we would pray for the year to come. For blessings on our loved ones, for wisdom as we entered new phases of our lives, and for peace. it wasn’t until this was all done that my mom would finish her display of the nativity scene. She always laid it out, every year. The porcelain pieces always seemed so old, though I imagine they weren’t. Mary and Joseph were so serene, the wise men so wise, and the shepherds so humble in their robes. An angel hung by a thread thin wire on a small wooden stable, guarding the scene. But the babe in the manger didn’t join the rest of the crew, not at the beginning any way. Jesus never entered the picture until after the story, the communion and the prayer. We would sing him to the stable, a happy birthday song, and the youngest member of the family always had the honor of placing him in the center of the stable, between his earthly parents. I always looked forward to that night, once a year. But as we aged and filtered off to our new names, new families, new homes, Christmas Eve changed. Before we knew it, our traditions changed. It became too difficult for us all to join the night before Christmas. But I’ve never forgotten those nights.
And I wonder what it’s like in heaven. Is there the anticipation of the Christ’s birthday rippling through the golden streets? Is there candle light and ancient books pulled from the shelves as the heavenly hosts retell the stories of that amazing night. Do the angels rejoice as they recall the way the sky was lit up with voices as they called the shepherds? Do the wise men gather the children to their knees and tell of their long journey over land and water as they followed that amazing star? Does the little drummer boy lovingly pull out a drum and sticks, gently tapping out a tune? And what of Mary? Does she sing the lullaby she sang to her sleeping boy, the savior of the world and the thief of her heart?
I would like to think so. I hope that the whole month of advent is a celebration of joy throughout the heavens. I hope that there is a birthday party like non other on Christmas day, and I hope that as we open our hearts to give, as we are blessed in the act of remembering the reason for this holiday, that we offer a present to the King. The gift of our hearts. The gift of thanks. And the gift of remembrance.