“In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Years ago, I was sitting with my mother in her assisted living apartment, reading the Liturgy of the Hours. My mother, who was the most spiritual and “faithful” person I’ve ever known, wanted to hear what I was reading. So I read Zecharaiah’s canticle, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel…”
When I finished she said, “That is beautiful.”
I had never thought of it like that. Leave it to mothers to show us the way!
In my memory, Christmas Eve is a calm, comfortable, warm…perfect night. From the time I was a young child, quivering in anticipation, through my youth, until now in my old age, Christmas Eve has always…well, almost always…had this aura for me. Cozy, some would call it.
O 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.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, o night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!
Except for one Christmas Eve.
That was not cozy…nor anything comforting.
I remember vividly, to this day, banging on the dining room window with a wooden block, the kind that had letters and numbers on it, banging so hard my mother was afraid I’d break the glass. I can see my father’s car pulling out of the driveway and going up the street, off to the bar, or the liquor store, or wherever he shouted that he was going. My mother, brother, sister, and I were alone on Christmas Eve. I was crying and bereft. And my mother was comforting us.
My father came back from the infantry in World War II a full-blown alcoholic, as my mother told it. And to tell the truth, Christmas Eve was not always calm, comfortable, warm, nor perfect. But as a child, I fell back on the blessings of the season and willed myself into a Currier and Ives depiction of what I wanted in my life.
I made it comfortable. Today I believe that the Holy Spirit helped us through those difficult times, those Christmas holidays that were so fraught with terror for little kids. Because my mother could see what was beautiful in the world around her. She made it comfortable for all of us.
What’s past is past. And as my wife recently said to me of difficult people, “One way to look at them is that they are just doing the best they can.”
As an aside here, it’s unnerving to think that you have married a woman just like your mother!
There’s a faith that can bring us peace. A faith in God, as with my mother, and a faith in humanity, as with my wife. Faith. We know that on Christmas Eve, the baby Jesus will be born again in all our minds. And that the promise we have heard will be fulfilled. And we know that our children, family, and friends will either be with us or thinking of us this night. And we know the thrill of hope in the new and glorious morn.
So we fall on our knees. We rejoice in the peace of God, which passeth all understanding. And we find comfort in the dark night, the sounds of the carols, the anticipation of friends, family, and the coming of the infant in the manger.
For no matter what we are facing, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God has said to us that we will have no burden that we cannot bear, that there is a calm in our souls, and that tomorrow will bring a new dawn of love and peace.
Lord, thank you for coming to our help in our times of happiness and our times of sorrow. Thank you for giving us the splendor of your presence in the form of a little child. Thank you for the peace which passeth all understanding. Amen.