First published in The Carillon, Thursday, December 22
It was Christmas Eve. Snow was blowing outside but, inside, Christmas carols played and a fire burned cheerily in the hearth. Lydia and Jon, the mother and father of the family, were together in the kitchen. Lydia took the last batch of Christmas goodies out of the oven while Jon prepared hot chocolate.
The hardwood floor was warm beneath her feet as Lydia walked towards the front room. She was glad to have time to relax with the family. Christmas had always been special. When Lydia looked into the front room, she saw that the children had brought blankets and sheets from their bed and had constructed an elaborate tent using chairs and other objects in the room.
“I’m pleased the two of you are getting along so well. That makes me feel so happy inside,” Lydia said, sitting down on the couch. “And your tent reminds me of something. Did I ever tell you the story about what it was like when my grandpa first moved to Canada?”
“Tell us!” said Junia.
“Did they live in the olden days?”
Their mother laughed. “I guess so.”
The children settled in at their mother’s feet to hear the story as their father brought in the hot chocolate and set it on the side table.
“We can drink this in a few minutes, after it is cooled,” he said.
Lydia began the story, “My grandfather told me that, when he was a very small child, he and his parents went in a big steam-powered ship. They crossed the ocean in a little under two weeks. He didn’t remember very much about it because he was so little. Then they took the train from the east coast all the way to Manitoba. When his parents arrived in this province, it was fall. They bought land to farm. But they didn’t have time to build a house before the snow came. Guess what they lived in that whole winter?”
“Not a tent!” cried Joe. “That would be too cold!”
“Yes, they lived in a tent. My grandfather said it was so terribly cold. His parent came from Europe where it was warmer than it is here. They didn’t realize it got so cold in Manitoba, and they didn’t know anyone nearby so there was no one to help them.”
“That’s terrible!” said Junia. “Did they die?”
“No,” said her mother. “They didn’t die. My grandfather’s parents were very strong and brave. They prayed each morning before leaving the tent that God would protect them and help them.”
“So… they had their Christmas in a tent?” asked Joe.
“Yes, they did.”
“What did they eat?” asked Joe.
“His father went hunting so they had meat to eat. And he also sold the animal skins and fur for money so their family could buy some food at the store, too.”
“I’m glad we have a house instead,” said Junia.
“Me too,” said Joe. “Did they always live in a tent?”
Their mother laughed. “No. In the spring his father was able to begin building them a house.”
“How long ago did this happen?” asked Junia.
“Oh, it was about 100 years ago.”
“That sure helps us to remember to be thankful,” said their father. “The hot chocolate is cool enough now.” He handed the seaming cups to the children.
“Thank you,” said Junia.
“Thank you,” said Joe.
“Thank you,” said their mother.
“See, said their father, “we’re remembering to be thankful already.”
They all laughed together.
“Mom,” said Joe, “you should have told us a story about a bear chasing them instead.”
“Yeah. I know what he would have done. He would have dived into the tent and grabbed his gun, like this.” Joe dived into the tent. But he was still holding his hot chocolate and he got tangled up in the sheets. The boy landed in the blankets with a loud thud.
“Joe, are you okay?” asked his mother.
He stood up, with hot chocolate all down the front of his shirt.
Joe laughed. The whole family laughed.
“It’s okay,” said their mother, “we’ll clean up later.”
After the laughter died down, Junia began speaking quietly.
“Living in a tent for Christmas, that reminds me of the first Christmas story.”
“Yeah,” said Joe. “I don’t know which would be worse, having Christmas in a barn or in a tent in the freezing cold.”
“I think the barn would be worse. They smell so bad and they’re so dirty,” said Junia.
“Yes,” said their mother, “and don’t forget, Mary had to deliver a baby there. I can’t imagine having a baby in a barn.”
“Let’s read the Christmas Story,” said their father. He took the Bible from the side table and turned to Luke, Chapter 2.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
“Thanks, Dad,” said Joe. “I love that story.”
“Me too,” said Junia. “I wish we could have been there, to see the angels and especially to see baby Jesus.”
Suddenly, the room was filled with glorious light and with angles singing “Glory to God in the highest!”
Lydia was afraid and overwhelmed with amazement. She took her children’s hands.
“Come!” said an angel. “You will see the Christ, born for you!”
Jon stood and led the way.
Lydia and the children followed him as he walked behind the shimmering angel, out of their small living room and through a glowing tear in the fabric of time. They came out on a quiet dirt road. There were stone buildings all around them. It was night.
“I can’t believe this!” said Joe.
“Come,” said the angel again, as he led them to a low building with a wooden gate for a door.
They stood at the gate and looked into the barn. Lydia saw a tiny crying baby, wrapped in clothes and laying in the hay that was used to feed the animals. Also in the small barn were a cow, three sheep and two goats. The baby’s mother looked so tired and dirty and the man looked concerned for her. The baby must have just been born.
“I guess the shepherds didn’t get here, yet,” whispered Junia.
Mary and Joseph seemed not to hear or notice them at all.
Then Lydia felt tears pouring down her cheeks. …That God’s son would make himself into such a weak creature and be born into such a circumstance. Her heart was torn.
“What love God has for us,” she said in awe.
The angel spoke from behind them. “And now you must return. Remember always what you have seen.”
And with that, they were back in their living room, just as they had been- Lydia and Jon on the couch with the children sitting at their feet. Jon still held the Bible in his hands. But tears glistened on all of their cheeks.
“Thank you,” whispered Junia. “Thank you.”