Childhood memories tend to come to me in vignettes, often with very little context in which to interpret them. They are like small ice chunks that have broken away from a glacier, bobbing along on the surface of a spring thaw river.
Sometimes when I catch sight of them, I pluck them out and have a look-see. The Christmas bits are particularly compelling. Nostalgia gives them a crystalline sparkle and I enjoy caressing the smooth, time-eroded surfaces. I catch a glimpse of my siblings and me decorating the tree with miniature carousel ornaments that twirl round at the slightest breath of air. Snow ball-shaped lights frame the picture window and crackling wood radiates warmth from the fireplace.
I remember the thrill of anticipation over the special gift “Santa” would bring and the soft, buttery taste of Mom’s shortbread. And there was the excitement of staying up very late to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I loved being in the children’s chorus, singing carols from our perch up in the choir loft. We had a grandstand view of the magical, life-size manger scene at the front of the sanctuary.
When I was ten years old, we moved to the other side of town. There was no midnight service in the church there, so we stayed home. How we spent the evening is not part of my memory flow, but one vignette from that Christmas Eve has stayed with me all my life.
It was quite late and I was lying snugly in bed, my little sister sleeping peacefully nearby. All was quiet in the house and my mind, over-stimulated by holiday activity, was trying to process everything. All the anxieties and excitements of the day clamoured for attention and I was trying to tuck them away so I could settle down and fall sleep.
And then I heard the church bells. A waterfall of notes cascaded through the darkness and settled into a tune I recognized.
Silent night, holy night.All is calm, all is bright….
I sang the words quietly to myself as carol after carol pealed out and something hidden way down inside me started to let go and relax.
Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth...
I don’t think that my ten-year old self had any astounding theological revelations that night. But I do believe that God rejoiced and sang over me in the music of the bells. And, as the carol proclaims, my “soul felt its worth”.
Isn't that what we all need? May the Lord sing over you as you celebrate the advent of His Son into our world.
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Icy river: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicmcphee/916741349/
Nativity scene: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16502322@N03/6568703575/