I wrote this piece a few years ago, and while my heart is pierced by a loss I didn’t see coming at the time, I’m also struck by the fact that, amid a sea of changes, some things remain blessedly the same. A sweet second day of Christmas to you all!
It’s been a day of gorgeous indolence, a true gift after all the glad hustle and bustle of the weeks previous. I sat on the couch by the fire and nursed the cold I sustained through late nights and early mornings and too much sugar and running out barefoot into the frost-touched grass for just one more branch of holly…and did nothing but catch up on my journal and think long and lovely thoughts.
My heart has been gloating over all the sweet bounty of the season today, and the goodness of God in the midst of it all. I have among the jewels in my memory chest the vision of thirty something-odd of the best beloved folks packing into our house on Christmas Eve; the bright image of a host of little faces screwed up over the serious business of peppermint sticks in oranges, and the poignant stab of my thirteen year-old nephew’s polite but unprecedented, “No thank you,” when I offered him one–the first to break rank with childhood. I have the memory of a walk with my Daddy and the dogs between Christmas breakfast and Christmas lunch, and of playing old Christmas duets with my brother at the piano and making a merry mess of it and laughing at ourselves all the way. I have the gift of a sister home from away and a mother who cries on Christmas night because it was all so fun and we were all together again.
So today I’ve just been soaking it in, not too sorry for the aforementioned cold that enforces an already validated pause. I just love the day after Christmas–and this was a perfect one. There was an absolutely majestic sunset tonight–we watched it over our tea with growing delight as it deepened from a glitter of gold among the pines through every shade of apricot and orange into a fiery splendor of crimson, spanning the pale sky in streaks of wild color. The finest sunset of the season, a glory that reminded us with joy that this was just the second of twelve glad days. And then–just as the last flame had vanished from the sky and the animals gathering in the barnyard told us it was time to pull on our overalls and get into our coats for the nightly ritual of bedding down–the lights flickered and went out, leaving us in the candlelight of the two tapers on the coffee table and the cheery glow of the Advent wreath in the window.
“This should be interesting,” Philip grinned. “And kind of neat.”
With one of my candle lamps and the two holly-trimmed hurricane lanterns that had graced the front walk, we made our way across the darkened lawn with Caspian frisking in the shadows and a waxing gibbous sifting a thin dusting of silver over our way. The animals all greeted us at the gate as usual. But they were unnerved by the darkness of their comforting barn. And the sheep, at least, were none too sure of the flickering lights we bore to dispel it. We hung the lanterns in the stalls as we worked, from the hay drops and perched atop mineral boxes, and I sang and spoke low to the frightened darlings as they alternately followed me as a body and dispersed in sudden panic. The goats were fine once they realized that grain was still forthcoming and hay was in the offing, and they munched some of their Christmas apples with as unperturbed a satisfaction as ever, their breath showing in fragrant puffs by the light of the lantern. But the sheep were too terrified to enjoy their evening repast, dropping some of their loved apples down into the straw untasted to be trampled underfoot by the others.
What a parable, I thought. The Light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not–I’ve always thought that one of the most heartbreaking verses in the Bible. A Light not only incomprehensible, but feared. I’ve heard it mentioned again and again how the first words out of an angel’s mouth when greeting a human being were always, ‘Fear not,’ and watching my poor frightened flock I saw an image of the terror of the unknown and unfamiliar, even couched in perfect safety.
I knelt down in their midst, calling to them softly by name, soothing and stroking as they drew near, a ring of lovely ovine faces illumined by the glow of the lanterns, their tender eyes and smooth velvet noses blooming out of the murkiness beyond. And then I was struck by another image altogether, a picture so precious I caught my breath and smiled. This is what the barn must have looked like on the night of Jesus’ birth, perhaps the light of an oil lamp scattering the shadows of the stable rude and lighting up the faces of the friendly beasts that gazed with wonder alongside shepherds and Mother and Father. That sweet tilt of Hermia’s head, so gently touched with gold, went to my heart, as did the soft muffle of Benedick’s breath in my ear and the rustle and clucking of a hen in the next stall. It all just gave me such a moment of transport, a flicker of knowing.
Let us go then, even unto Bethlehem…
The barn was beautiful by candlelight. And even though the babies protested noisily when we took the flickering lanterns away (any light was better than none!) we came merrily back across the lawn, lanterns swinging, to the music of utter silence in the world around us. Wrapped in an almost heavenly calm.
I was even a little sorry when the lights came on a few hours later.