Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas I: It's The Memories

Dim memories.  I had to be 4.  Our last Christmas in the house in Sayre.  I'm sitting next to my brother, jealous of the gift he just received, but eyeing my own substantial stack of loot and remembering there is good stuff in there.


It's early morning, our very first Christmas in our new house in Waverly.  We are frog-marched down the stairs, my father in front, my mother in back.  When Dad opens the door, he immediately strikes a post in the doorway between the dining room and living room.  We are not to peek until we've all had breakfast.  It's a tradition we carry on for two decades and more that at least one child is in the house at Christmas.

I'm in sixth grade, I think.  Christmas is still two weeks away, an eternity to a kid.  I come home from school cold, wet - there's snow, so of course there are snowball fights - and Mom takes me to the front living room and says, "It's time to put up the Nativity Set."

"Why?" I ask.

"Because that's your job," she tells me, then walks out of the room.  It sits where it has always sat, a forgotten corner of a dark room, the least used in the house.  I always think that's just perfect.


It's two days before Christmas that same year.  My youngest sister insists we gather in the living room where the largest tree we will have for several years stands in the bay window, the branches and large-bulbed lights filling the room with the smells and color of Christmas.  She wants us to read, together, some Dennis The Menace Christmas comic books.  Until I'm married and on my own, I never let a Christmas pass without reading at least one of these, thinking of the gift my sister just gave me.

It's a couple days before Christmas.  I think it's 1984.  It's snowing.  I'm in a car with my youngest sister, her then boyfriend, and I could swear there's someone else along with us.  We're in the parking lot at the old J. J. Newberry's in Sayre.  A Christmas song comes on the car radio, and my sister's boyfriend starts to change the channel.  My sister reaches out and flips the knob back.  "It's Christmas time!  You have to have music!"


It's 1993.  My first Christmas as a married person.  I've enjoyed shopping at the Montgomery County Mall, finding all sorts of neat gifts and things for Lisa.  After a crazy Christmas Eve, that included an extremely rude woman in front of us at Christmas Eve service, I wake up about 5:30 because my wife's side of the bed is hot.  That's right.  Our first Christmas together, she has a little 24 hour bug that includes a nice fever.  It's just the two of us in our little apartment, the single string of lights on our Charlie Brown Christmas tree providing enough light for us to open our gifts to one another.  We take a break so she can nap.  We had a nice Christmas dinner planned, but we manage to fake our way through the day.  We have one another.  That's more than enough.


The living room in the parsonage in Jarratt is filled to overflowing.  One man, one woman, a very large Great Dane, two cats, an enormous Christmas tree, and presents presents presents presents for a five month old little girl's very first Christmas.  Even as we tell one another we're not going to overdo it because she's still so small, she won't remember any of it, she doesn't need that much stuff, we over-indulge, smiling and laughing for her until she figures it out and smiles and laughs as each present is opened.  A few bows get stuffed in her tiny mouth, but get taken out before they're damaged.

Another living room.  It's a bit smaller, so it seems even more crowded.  The same adults, the same animals. The same people, with yet another addition, doing all the things her big sister did: smiling and laughing; grabbing paper and tearing it; a bit of paper or bow getting shoved in her mouth.  We're joined by more family and soon the room is filled to overflowing.

What does any of this have to do with the incarnation of God?  One could say not a thing.  On the other hand, it is precisely to these mundane realities that God came, emptying the Diving Life to be a servant for us all.  God has been in each of these moments, and so many more untold or forgotten, filled with laughter and joyous surprise, lots of food and the occasional argument (what a Safford family Christmas would have been without someone yelling at someone else I don't quite know).  These Christmases live on because they remind me that even in the cold and dark of winter there is fun and family and food and, best of all, something new.

Virtual Tin Cup

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