When I was a child, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with our extended family (and sometimes a few extras) at my paternal grandparents’ home. All my aunts, uncles, and cousins, along with friends we’d pretty much adopted as family during the years of Sunday after-church lunches. Nanny was a famous southern cook in our small community, and there was always fried chicken, vegetables from Grandad’s garden, homemade deserts, and cornbread and biscuits. Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure Nanny stayed up nearly all night just to get the feast prepared and cooked, but to my childlike wonder, it seemed to appear, like magic, on the antique side board all pushed together in whatever dish was handy. This was no formal matching-china-and-silver-set affair. Consequently, it felt very accessible and inviting to me, and I would stand there with my chin just barely above the top of the buffet, smelling all the delicious smells and sneaking a corner piece of cornbread when no one was looking.
There was a certain order of events which we children always tried to circumvent, because the opening of presents came at the very end. We tried every year to reverse the order of things, which really made sense to us, but seemed to fall on deaf ears. So, once everyone was gathered, one of the men, usually my dad, gave the prayer of thanksgiving and grace for the feast, and then the twenty or so of us would file through the buffet and find a place to sit (adults and kids sat separately, and this was generally considered to be best for everyone). The actual feasting always took forever, because the adults were catching up and reliving happy and sometimes hilarious memories), then there was desert and coffee. Then the reading of the Christmas story. Nanny always read the whole true story straight from the Bible. She didn’t always read the same gospel, and she often would expand the Nativity story to include prophecies from the Old Testament and some of the exciting and kind of scary stuff from the Revelation of John.
I used to think she enjoyed prolonging the agony of us kids as we were made to sit, quiet and reverent, waiting for the final “amen.” Because, of course, there was always a prayer at the end of the reading. And Nanny was famous for “praying around the world.” As a venerable saint, she understood the joy of waiting for sure and precious gifts, and now I know she was schooling us, even then, in the mysteries of God.
Finally, she would lift her head, eyes sparkling, and clap her hands. Presents were now allowed to be given and received. The noise of all that joy and goodwill was fairly deafening, and wrapped us up in the familiar comfort of family who love each other. But there was something else, something I didn’t always have words for. A deep feeling. A really big one. A sense of the pleasure and goodwill that Father has for the whole entire wold.
Yes, joy to the world! Unto us a child is born, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord! And the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Merry Christmas, dear readers! May you find strength in the Lord’s joy. Joy He has in the desire of His heart that none should perish but that everyone would come to repentance and receive everlasting life.
Until next week, be filled with peace that passes understanding, joy that rises above every circumstance, and hope that clings to your home in heaven.