The night air must have been chilling; but then, the shepherds were not unaccustomed to the stiff joints and aching bones that accompanied their outdoors, midnight shift. Seldom did any event break the boredom. Sheep sleep; sheep graze; hours pass sluggishly. Occasionally a predator, who was hunting prey in the moonlight, attempted to sneak into the fold. Those extraordinary nights presented opportunity for daring acts of bravery and heroic feats of valor. Dangerous foes, skilled defenders, merited victories: the essentials that make a fantastic tale were told and retold around the campfire during all the other monotonous nights.
That night was quiet. The sky was clear and the stars shone brightly. The shepherds heard nothing but an occasional bleating from the fold. Then, suddenly, the sky was illuminated with a glistening brightness that overshadowed the stars and surpassed the moon. Light beams fell to the ground revealing the presence of an angel. The midnight warriors trembled with fear at the appearance of the heavenly visitor.
“Fear not,” the angel proclaimed. “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Immediately, upon the angel finishing his announcement, a great multitude of heavenly hosts became visible, suddenly filling the skies with splendor and song, with majesty and melody, with radiance and refrain. “Glory to God in the highest,” they sang, “Peace on earth and good will to men.”
The atmosphere reverberated with sound. The earth seemed to quiver beneath the feet of the shepherds – or maybe it was the trembling of their own legs as they stood in awe of heaven’s glory. And then it was over – the night quiet, serene. But the words of the angel, “find the child” echoed in their minds. They were accustomed to swiftly act at the appearance of a foe. This night they determined to promptly respond to the advent of the angels. They made haste to go to Bethlehem to find the one whom angels had worshiped and declared him to be Lord. He was there, just as the angel had said.
The night ended as it had begun – sheep, shepherds, and the chilling night air. Yet, nothing of the rest of their lives would ever be the same. They had a new story to tell. This one was not of the sort that made for campfire tales. This story, with its blinding lights from heaven, angelic hosts from beyond, and Savior sent from above, made an astonishing story fit to be told to the whole world. And told it was.
From that extraordinary night long ago until this now, over 2,000 years of time has passed; but the story lives on. Never had there been a night like that, nor has there ever been again. The tale of the shepherds is preached from pulpits around the world, read from the scriptures during the Christmas season, and embraced by believers who rejoice at the Savior’s birth.
What a wonderful time of the year for each of us to pass on the story! Someone we now might just need to hear that the night – in Bethlehem – was a night unlike any other night!
The buzzer sounded signaling that the cookies were ready to be removed from the oven. Finally, the last tray! Six hours earlier I had begun the task of making cut-out, Christmas cookies. Oh, the zeal! Wow, such enthusiasm! Gee, the joy! At least, that was the emotion that emoted before six hours of measuring, mixing, rolling, cutting, baking, and cooling 350 cookies.
The job was done. The kitchen floor was dotted with flour; the countertop was gummy from dough. The front of my blouse looked like I worked behind the scenes for Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, or Paula Deen. (Sure, these stars of the food cooking networks may always appear clean, neat, and tidy; but I know that back in the kitchen there are some go-to-it guys with spotted and stained aprons just like mine.)
I wanted to sit down and moan. Oh, the ache in my arches! Wow, the pain in my lower back! Gee, the stiffness between my shoulders! At least, that was the physical condition that emanated after the don’t-stop-baking-until-there-are-enough-cookies-for all-the-kids-and-grandkids-to-decorate vigil.
Yet trophies abounded. Sugar cookies in the shapes of Christmas trees, stars, ornaments, holly leaves, candles, snowmen, packages, and even Santa’s hat lined the counters, the tables, and the stove top. Diva chefs, match that! I had prepared the way for the main event. Tomorrow the family will gather to ice, decorate, and adorn the shapes. The bland-colored trees will be turned green; snowmen will be decked with a top hat and scarf; and each design will come to life with bright frosting. Our traditional cut-out cookie marathon was made ready because I prepared the way.
“Prepare ye the way.” There is a phrase that all those who are familiar with the birth and ministry of Jesus will recognize. According to scripture, many amazing miracles accompanied that first Christmas event. One supernatural occurrence was connected with a man name John the Baptist, who was titled the forerunner of Jesus. His mother Elizabeth was barren and advanced in age. Before Elizabeth’s cousin Mary conceived the baby Jesus, the angel Gabriel announced to Elizabeth and Zacharias, her husband, that they would have a child.
Elizabeth and Zacharias prepared a way for John. They conceived him according to God’s Word, raised him in the nurture of God’s Word, and launched him on destiny’s course as had been foretold by God’s Word. Although we are not given all the details, I am sure that everyday tedium pulled both parents away from the “Wow, a baby” to the “Gee, more work” stage. Yet, they made ready the path of their son.
When his day arrived, John traveled throughout the region preparing a way for the ministry of Christ, the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. Surely the elation of his destiny waned occasionally as it was confronted by the reality of hardships. However, he called his listeners to make room for Jesus in their hearts and lives.
John’s ministry can still speak to us this Christmas. Of all the events that shift us from sheer excitement to plain old labor during this season, no holiday preparation holds more importance than opening our hearts to receive the Christ Child. If we do, we will find that trophies will abound. Lives cut out after the pattern of eternity will be decorated with love, joy and peace. Destinies will take the shape of God’s Word and be adorned with blessing from on high. As Christmas approaches – “Prepare Ye the Way!”
The Christmas season is upon us. My husband and I have begun our preparations for this special holiday. The initial task on our list was the decoration of our home. On the very same day that we packed away the Thanksgiving decor, we pulled out of storage the Christmas trimmings. Boxes and boxes, bags and bags, more boxes and more boxes were carried from the basement closet and positioned in the middle of the family room floor. After a few moments of questioning our resolve, we began the process of transformation.
The Christmas tree came first. Our children had pooled their resources last Christmas season and given us the gift of a new artificial tree. They knew our fondness for the holiday and the condition of our decades-old tree, so they presented this special gift unto us. As the tree had come packaged tightly for shipping, we had the task of opening and spreading each branch. After five hours of effort, we had the seven-foot pine unfurled. Tired but determined, we unboxed the strings of gold-colored lights and opened the containers of decorative ornaments. A few more hours later, the splendor of our gift was fully revealed; and we realized that we would be able to enjoy the light and beauty of the gift that had been given unto us for the remainder of the holiday season.
After a well-earned night of sleep, we awakened on decorating day two with revived resolve. Awaiting us in the boxes were decades-old porcelain “Snow Village” houses. My husband had a collection of these miniature replicas of early American homes and stores, and he would yearly set up a display of a small village along with its small pine trees and small figurines. Almost a decade had passed since he had undertaken the construction project; therefore, the gift, which he had given unto himself, had remained in boxes and in storage. He decided that this would be the year he would re-open, re-discover, and re-use his village. After several hours or work, we had the gift on display. The grandchildren will enjoy the panorama throughout Christmas.
Our decorating continued until we had unboxed and placed upon display each Christmas adornment. Candles were set on the sofa tables; porcelain angles were positioned on the buffet; garland was draped on the fireplace mantle; and Christmas dishes were arranged in the china cabinet. Gifts that we had purchased for ourselves and gifts that had been given unto us were each carefully and lovingly opened and exhibited. Our holiday had officially begun.
Over the next few weeks, we will continue to focus on gifts. We will purchase, put in boxes, and wrap with great care special items for the special people in our lives. We will select these special gifts with knowledge of the one to whom the gift will be given. On Christmas morning, the packaged and boxed will be opened and will bring unto each a needed or desired treasure. Such is Christmas – gifts given, gifts received, gifts opened, and gifts enjoyed.
The prophet Isaiah told of a gift that God had chosen for mankind. “Unto Us” would this gift be given. The gift would initially come packaged as a babe in a manger, but the ramifications of the gift could only be comprehended by those who would look beyond the packaging. On that first Christmas and wrapped in swaddling clothes came the gift of everlasting life. Jesus was God’s gift especially selected with our needs and desires in mind.
Have we opened our gift or allowed it to be stored away for decades? Have we just admired the gift, or have we partaken of its treasures? The gift of Christ, which has been given unto us, has the power to transform and transfigure our lives and our homes.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, KJV)
Life has its twists and turns. It has its moments of rest and moments of work. It records its yesterdays while promising its tomorrows. Life is the composite of the moments we live. Who would not wish to relive a precious season knowing that there were components of those special times that we missed and nuances of those memorable events that we failed to appreciate? Imagine how fun it would be if we could willfully jump back in time to relive a moment here or a moment there. But life only moves in one direction – forward.
Life and time, being designed the way they are, beckons us to fully live in our present. Probably most of us grew up hearing the well-known aphorism, “take time to stop and smell the roses.” That saying is not instructing us to literally pause a moment but rather advising us to focus our attention in the moment in order that we might fully partake of the treasures that are before us.
I have been taking that advise over this past week of the Thanksgiving holiday. My daughter, her husband, and their children came from Florida to spend a week at my house. The five children, who range in ages from 13 to 22, have full and busy lives that I seldom share because of the thousand miles between Collinsville and Sarasota. This week was the container for my moments. These moments were the container for me to share their lives. These shared lives would be the container for my future precious memories.
I decided to fill the week with many little “roses.” For example, each night I turned down the beds and put small candies upon the pillows. There is nothing like the scent and taste of chocolate to draw attention into a freeze-frame moment. We also shared special Illinois treats that are not available where the kids live: thin crust pizza, toasted ravioli, and hometown-bakery sheet cake, to name a few. Taste buds arrested by a familiar but distant flavor is a great way to seize awareness of the present moment.
Nana’s kitchen was the primary gathering spot for conversations and special culinary treats. Cooked-to-order breakfast and fresh-brewed coffee filled each morning with the fragrance of special love and attention. Thanksgiving dinner recalled into our present the awareness of yesterday’s memories. The decorated Thanksgiving table was a feast for the eyes as it beckoned us to stop, look, see, and delight in the beauty. Thanksgiving mealtime prayer was an opportune time of deliberately focus upon God’s goodness that is always present in the many moments of our days.
I was especially cognizance of the unplanned minutes. I whiffed the fragrance of love when cousins and siblings initially reunited and then later exchanged farewells. I smelled the scent of joy when spontaneous laughter erupted. The sounds of the little grandchildren squealing and the explosions of the teens as they giggled were just like a sweet perfume. The aroma of family wafted throughout the house. Love has its fragrance. Relationships are a bouquet of unique scents. I spent my whole week stopping, smelling, and breathing deeply so as not to miss one moment.
The week has passed. The holiday has ended. My daughter and her family have returned home. Fleeting moments remain only as reflective thoughts. Yet – somehow – the fragrance continues. Perhaps the fact that I deliberately soaked myself in the perfume of “roses” will allow the residue of the fragrance to abide through all the days, weeks, and months until our next family holiday. In between our reunions, however, I’m sure that daily living will afford me many other wonderful opportunities to stop, smell, and enjoy life’s moments.