Of Twinkling Lights and Silver Bells

I love Christmas! All the sights and sounds and fragrances and activities of the season fill my heart with delight, even on the darkest days.

It’s just before dawn, my very favorite time of day. The living room is quiet, illuminated only by lights twinkling on the mantle and Christmas tree. Logs I just added to last night’s embers are actually cooperating, adding their crackling warmth. And I’m so grateful for this time. I know there’s pain and suffering and sorrow all around—we certainly have our share of it in this family—but that seems all the more reason to cherish these moments of comfort and joy; even greater inspiration to praise the Giver of every good gift.

This is a different kind of Christmas season for us. I’m doing very little of the entertaining I love to do—just our usual family gatherings and annual New Year’s Eve party for our care group. Getting this big house ready to put on the market (yep, we’re actually going to sell!) and helping with the needs of loved ones in the midst of tough transitions have taken most of the time and energy I usually invest in parties and dinners. I’m missing that; it’s one of my greatest pleasures. This is the first time in years we won’t be having two very treasured groups of friends for the dinners that have become as much a part of Christmas at the Mac’s as our family celebrations. They’re family too, but our lives have changed and so have theirs.

Sometimes common sense demands we suck it up, heed the great theologians of Disney, and “…let it go!” So, I’m taking a deep breath and relinquishing the joy of welcoming lots of people into our home when it’s all warm and decorated and smelling like Christmas… just for this year, I tell myself… as well as accepting that the ridiculously complex Christmas village that’s grown from that first little church my St. John’s staff gave me so many Christmases ago simply demands too much time and effort for this moment. I’m gonna miss that magical town that fills a whole section of my study and so are the kids, but this year for the first time it’s staying tucked away in its designated cabinet there.

Even so, the true magic of Christmas still warms my heart. Giving up parties and fancy dinners means there’s a little more time to make gingerbread houses and gingerbread “mans” with granddaughters and then enjoy watching them decorate the playroom tree with their handiwork.

If I mourn quiet candlelight dinners, I relish the hubbub of picking up my girls after school to give their mom a break. (How fun to hear them playing pool with Papa while I fix them a “snack” of scrambled eggs—with cheese, please.) And a little newly unencumbered time means I can possibly schedule one more lunch or coffee with teenage girls I love, who bless me by sharing their lives with me. Maybe I can even bake extra poppy seed bread to take to the neighbors.

The one thing that definitely will not change, however, is the beautiful nativity scene that’s the centerpiece of our family kitchen. I try to have a nativity display of some kind in each room, even if some are just self-contained ornaments; but this one is truly the heart of it all. It’s one of the first decorations I set up each Christmas and the first lights I turn on each day. I started with just the Holy Family when the kids were small, hoping to add a few new pieces each year and somehow I stumbled into the elegance of the Fontanini tradition long before Fontanini was cool. Eventually shopping for our collections became one of Kellee’s and my favorite things to do together. Now there’s no room in its brick alcove for even one more figure.

While twinkling lights and silver bells can make the heart sing, however, Christmas is not about decorations and carols and pumpkin bread. Not even elegant nativity sets. Christmas is all about Jesus, no matter how much the world tries to deny Him. In spite of all the controversy the moral Scrooges seem determined to create, and the honest disagreement among people of faith about whether the sparkle and bling of an American Christmas has any place in true celebration of Immanuel, there’s still a wonderful sense of anticipation and excitement and hope that pervades our world at this time of year.

So about those twinkling lights… every point of radiance speaks to my heart of the Word that became flesh and made His dwelling among us. Each glittering star sings this truth into my heart: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) How can we not shout for joy: “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-6)

Are you letting that fill your heart with song, too? Amidst all the hustle and bustle and stress, do you find time to thank the Light of All Mankind that He gave up the splendors of heaven to bring light and life to this land of deep darkness? Are you claiming the hope and joy He offers?

We lost a dear friend last week. It’s such a painful time to lose someone you love. Our hearts ache for her family, and for all the friends whose lives are a little less bright without her. Helen was one of the most loving, joyful people I’ve ever known. Years ago Mac labeled her “Sapphire”—don’t ask me why—so of course she retaliated by calling him “Rastis.” I’m sad we didn’t keep in closer touch these past few years. The last time I saw her was with her husband David at Walmart (where else do we run into people these days). Though by then she was already struggling to get around, she greeted me with a huge hug and kiss on the cheek and we agreed we just had to get together… soon…

It’s hard to say good-bye to one we love any time, but somehow right before Christmas seems especially cruel. How can we say “Merry Christmas” when our lives seem torn apart? How can we sing of peace on earth when our hearts despair that there is no peace? That was the heart cry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow after his wife died in a terrible fire and his oldest son was dreadfully wounded in the Civil War. “I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play,” he wrote, “And wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men. And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said.” Who could have blamed him! But his real legacy from that time of desperate pain was the rest of the poem that became one of our most beautiful carols: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.’” So, although Christmas is not about twinkling lights and silver bells, those lights and bells can certainly be all about Christmas. Here’s the rest of that wonderful poem from Longfellow, “I thought how, as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom had rolled along the unbroken song of peace on earth, good will to men. Till, ringing singing, on its way, the world revolved from night to day, a voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, good will to men

I can’t even imagine the wonders of Christmas in Helen’s new home, but we’ll get together… soon… In the meantime we’ll keep praying for the true comfort and peace only the Christ of Christmas can bring for her family here. In the end, isn’t that what this season is really all about?

Now here’s my voice… a chime… a chant sublime: Messiah has come to make His dwelling among us. His name is Jesus. He is Immanuel, God With Us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

2 comments on “Of Twinkling Lights and Silver Bells

  • Gwen

    December 20, 2016 at 8:13 am

    Beautiful, Sandi!

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