Can you believe the day before one of our favourite days is finally here?!
When I was your age, it used to feel like it took forever to get to Christmas Eve. We would fill our days with baking and visiting friends and family, trips to the mall, even a trip to the USA to shop and see relatives. We would wrap and tag gifts, decorate the tree and the rest of the house. We would host parties and eat too much. But even all of that never seemed to make December move fast enough toward Christmas Eve.
Now that I’m a grown-up kid, I look back on all of those beautiful memories and there’s one that stands out the most to me. It was the quiet day I spent alone with my Grama every December. My Grampa passed away when I was little, so it would be just her and me for the whole day. She lived in a grand apartment on Westmount Road, and in the basement of the building, she had a big storage locker. And that was my favourite room of hers. Because inside that chain-link fence chamber, lay the treasures of her story. And I was an invited player in it.
These trips to the dark dungeon were a special privilege, I felt. And the day I showed this place to my cousin, I knew she had never been there, and my heart swooned with privilege and place in Grama’s story. I knew the way, and I knew what lay within.
We would drag out her artificial tree, and get it set up, primping and adjusting each branch just so. Then we would fill the elevator with boxes of ornaments, leaving room only for me and Grama. As I recall, the stack would reach as high as I was tall.
There was the box with the hand-blown ornaments from when she first got married in 1941. They were so fragile, and so pretty. I would take each one in my little hands and admire it before hooking it to a branch. Grama never gasped or fretted that I was holding precious things. She never got tense about me handling such breakable objects. It made me feel so honoured, so grown up, to be able to hang the prettiest ones.
There was this beautiful wreath that she had bought with Grampa after a trip to see family in Fresno one year in the 1970s. The pine cones are so tiny and adorable and I loved to stare at it and would remind my family every time we visited, which was frequently throughout the holidays, that I hung it on her front door. I did that!
Grama was a quiet lady. I was not a quiet child. She would let me talk and talk and I would ask so many questions, and I would simply walk in her ways for the whole day. Grama also loved Jesus with her whole life. Even when we would tidy up and make everything tidy and lug all the now-empty boxes back down to the locker, her Bible remained open, with pen and paper beside and a copy of Our Daily Bread shoved into its pages. She was a prayer warrior—I actually believe she prayed without ceasing. Like, she never stopped praying. I think her prayers are one of the reasons I’m a pastor today.
I don’t know if you’ve ever gone on a date with just one grandparent or parent, but it’s magical. Something happens when you give a grown-up the opportunity to take you out, alone. All the rules around nutrition and dessert and chocolate milk seem to be forgotten, if only for a time. All of my hard work with Grama would be rewarded with a meal out, my choice. And you better believe I always chose Swiss Chalet, for the Festive Special. And YES, I ate alllllll the chocolates at once!
All these years later, with Grama now in Heaven and a pandemic making decisions about how we celebrate, I’m reminded how important those quiet days were to me. They were the days filled with story about this ornament, the wreath and learning how to check each light when a strand goes out. They were tales of Grampa’s travels, like the time he brought back a hand-carved wooden nativity from some exotic land, and what Christmas was like for her as a little girl in hiding, before her family managed to escape to Canada. They were the hours of baking, learning, trying my hand at family traditions with no risk, just permission. They were days that I learned what it means to walk so closely with someone that you get dirty in each other’s dust, whether from the floor of the dungeon locker, or the flour on your hands.
There are traditions you’re missing this year. There are people you’re missing this year. But pay attention to the ones in the room. The quiet celebration, the conversations, the questions, the slow pace of a very different Christmas, they all have stories to tell when we get close enough.
And on that first Christmas, thousands of years ago, in the midst of the hustle and bustle and busyness of Bethlehem, one couple had had a very quiet, private journey, with secrets they held like glass ornaments. And with the chaos of the census and overflowing inns, their world was about to stand still. And they would share a moment that only they would be able to later retell.
Over there, beneath a bright sky, the shepherds had quieted their flocks and were settling down for the evening when the heavens burst open in song to declare the arrival of our Immanuel to the least suspecting congregation. Those who had never received any kind of honour were now bowing beneath the highest honour and glory they would ever declare. But the experience must have been like a treasure from a faraway place that they couldn’t really explain, but wanted to tell everyone about.
And God looked down on the whole scene, his heart bursting with love, wondering if we would really understand what He had just done. What He had just invited us into. That everything had changed forever and He did it for His kids.
Immanuel, God with us. He is near. So as you gather in your homes this season, what is the story He will want you to tell when this is all over? What is the story of Love-Come-Down this Christmas, right in your midst? When Heaven held its breath in anticipation on this night so long ago, it breathed out hope, peace, joy, and love. May all of it be yours tonight, and always.