History & Culture / Opinion

Christmas is Coming…


Snow fills the dooryard, covers the ground, clings to branches, and keeps falling. For a moment, the churning, burning, wild, and unreasoning world is made quiet. There is a sense of peace, mercy, an invitation to humility – and gratitude. Fitting, too, as Christmas is coming.  

Is there anything new to be said about Christmas? Have we not heard it all, planned for it all, reckoned with it all, understood the promise, been humbled by God on Earth, Child in the manger, incomparable miracle, unparalleled hope? Is it not Ecclesiastes that wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun”? That thought swept me, as I sat to write.

Oddly, sitting in the quiet of falling snow, fluttering birds at the feeder, branches swaying, I got my answer – something beyond Dasher, Dancer, and Prancer. What swept me were Christmases past, not the one coming – but ones before.

In another blizzard, years ago, the matriarch of our family, my grandmother, struggled up a snow-covered set of stairs – climbing to our Christmas dinner. That she did so may sound unremarkable, except she was 80, had just one good leg, had been widowed for 50 years, yet smiled.

As my brother and I walked with her, snow in all our faces, my mind turned to her smile. How did she keep it, given all she knew? At that point, she had also lost her siblings, friends, and most mobility.

Her words came without hesitation. When I wondered aloud how she managed stairs in a blizzard with a smile, she said. “You do what you have to do,” adding “and I have a lot to be grateful for.” Then she flashed that smile, eyes twinkling behind her thick schoolteacher glasses.

What she did not say was she lived for family, which taught us to do that; had her faith, which we knew intuitively; and possessed a timeless secret: The only way forward is forward.

What she did not say was, at Christmas we recall why all the rest of it matters, being fair, loving, and humble. Of course, she would never say that – but that is what, as the snow falls out my window, I think of now.

Another Christmas, when my son was less than a year, we ran out of gas in a desperate part of Washington DC. Temperatures below freezing, wind howling, the barren parkway seemed to offer no way forward. Miraculously, a car appeared behind me, and from it emerged a large black man, his collar pulled up.

When I lowered the window, he asked over the wind, “Alright?” “Out of gas,” I said. “Station not far, I can get you there.” He did, and back. When I offered money, he just smiled. “No thanks, I get mine from the Big Man.”  He looked up – and was gone.

Out my window, snow keeps falling. So many Christmases were marked by unexpected acts of kindness, people coming from afar, giving time, perfect gifts, clever rhymes, leaving differences behind – services, readings, retellings to quiet the heart, lift the soul, filled stockings, no coal.

My daughter, small and dressed in her best, would sit and study the tree, hang glass balls delicately, while my son would set up the train, lay the track, lie down beside his grandfather, both on their backs.

Christmas is a time of wisdom and wonder, gratitude and giving, fresh each year, filled with realization and reflection, laughter and cheer. It is the conscious stopping of time, for gratitude and hope, no worry or wrath – in that way, light on a path.

And the path matters, restarting of time, celebration of Christ’s birth – an opportunity for restoration, re-grounding, mirth, and rebirth. The new year hustles along right behind it, but the day – that celebration – is an inflection point, always new.

The writer of Ecclesiastes opens with “there is nothing new under the sun,” yet reminds us that hope is never done. It lies in not losing compass for goodness, chance to do it, desire to pursue it. Ecclesiastes closes, “Do justly…love mercy…and walk humbly with your God.”

Christmases past, present, and future blend, in the end. Dickens was right, and Tiny Tim. “God bless us, every one.” Snow fills the dooryard still, covers the ground, clings to branches, and keeps falling. For a moment, the world is quiet. Fitting, too, as Christmas is coming. 

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5 months ago

Thank you. This is an old message, yes, but told not enough.
While CNN and FOX will blab on about nothing for the next few days, I will be
watching 3-5 different versions of Dicken’s Christmas Carol and Its a Wonderful
Life to remind myself of what is important. The best way to feel good now is to
give..give..give. And give thanks

Marta Alvarez
5 months ago

Thank you, thank you! Your writing is so beautiful and refreshing, reminding us what Christmas is all about. Merry Christmas to everyone, ‘God bless us all, everyone’.

5 months ago

Beautiful, just beautiful!

Rob citizenship
5 months ago

To Robert B. Charles , Very nice article. In the paragraph that begins with
” Christmas is a time of wisdom and wonder …” you describe the soul and the spirit of how Christmas should be. I believe in thinking about Christmas in terms of being a time for joyful and reverent feelings and thoughts. And a time of renewal and reflection . I believe you made a great contribution to the spirit of Christmas with what you wrote.

Dawn Curran
5 months ago

Your thoughts and memories warm my heart, so I thank you. And I can feel you here within the borders of our beautiful state, since we all have “dooryards!” Have joyous Christmas, and God bless you.

Kathleen Phillips-Hellman
5 months ago

Truly, you captured the essence of Christmas. Christ and family. Thank you.

5 months ago

Thank you, and Merry Christmas Kathleen! Onward!

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