It’s a late afternoon in early December, and the setting sun casts long golden shadows across our living room.
Sitting cross-legged on the carpet, I’m surrounded by stacks of unopened boxes of holiday decorations.
Christmas is coming. Time to decorate. But this year, as I reach into a box and wearily pull out the family Christmas stockings, each one personalized with a different needlepoint design, something is wrong. Something is missing.
Hanging the stockings on the mantel above the fireplace has always been my favorite Christmas tradition. Where is the joy? I wonder. Where is the delicious sense of anticipation and excitement I usually feel for this holy season?
Truth be told, after more Christmases than I can remember, the prospect of decorating the house for the holidays has become something of a (Oh, I am loathe to admit it!) burden. Yet another time-consuming project dictated by a crowded, hectic season that consists of seemingly endless tasks: buying, wrapping and mailing gifts; writing Christmas cards; baking cookies; shopping for, cooking and serving Christmas dinner.
It’s all too much! I don’t have time! I’m tired! Plus, our two children are grown now. They’ll come home for the holidays, but their visits will be brief. Even our little pug, Max, has slowed down. He’s no longer a rambunctious pup, and his black muzzle is now flecked with silver. He’s grown old and tired. Like me.
Shame on you, Kitty! I scold myself. Snap out of it! But it’s not that easy.
Suddenly, there’s a gleam as the setting sun illuminates something across the room. What is it? I peer over the top of my reading glasses. And then I see him. My angel. My Christmas angel, glittering in the pale winter sunlight.
The sight of the angel triggers a memory of a Christmas years earlier, when I was young and my children were small.…
It was a gloomy January afternoon. I had just about finished putting Christmas away. A sense of wistfulness washed over me as I surveyed the boxes neatly stacked at the bottom of the center hall stairs, ready to go up to the attic for another year.
Gone was the gumdrop-roofed gingerbread house on the sideboard and the miniature blue porcelain crèche with its mysteriously iridescent Baby Jesus. Gone were the boughs of evergreen, the holly sprigs, the bunches of red berries that poked from behind every mirror and frame. Gone were the red and green candles, the aroma of cider and pine.
Gone—and missed most sorely—was the exquisite sense of anticipation, the feeling that something wonderful was about to happen. Gone was the spirit of Christmas. All that remained were a few dried needles somehow missed by the vacuum, one last cardboard box waiting to be closed and put away, and the angel. My Christmas angel.
He was a cherub, actually. Bronze, with stubby wings. I had purchased him at an auction one rainy winter afternoon. Now, I looked at him standing on tippytoes, his chubby arms—so like those of our baby boy’s—stretching heavenward. What is it that he sees? I wondered. The wonder and mystery of our Lord’s birth, perhaps?
He was quite heavy, not fragile at all. Still, I wrapped him in yards of tissue as though he were made of the finest bone china, and gently pushed him deep into the box. There he would lie until next year, snug among the plastic holly sprigs and Christmas stockings, oblivious to the cycle of birthdays, holidays and other celebrations the coming months would bring.
Before closing the box, I took one last look around our house. Our home after Christmas, stripped of its decorations, seemed so barren and empty. Despite the clutter of papers, knickknacks and stray toys, it was as though something were lacking. There were seasons, it occurred to me, when my life was like our home: My life, without Christ’s indwelling Spirit, was barren and empty. But with Christ’s Spirit, it was abundant and expectant, brimming with hope and joy.
Suddenly, impulsively, I reached into the box and retrieved my little friend. Racing toward the living room, I set my angel on the table by the front window. And there, shaded by a pastel spray of silken wildflowers, he remained—on tippytoes, with arms and gaze upraised—a winsome reminder of the spirit of Christmas in our home all year long.
The memory is good. Like a gentle hand taking mine. And as I gaze at my angel’s stubby little wings glowing in the sun’s waning rays, I feel my spirit take flight.
Suddenly energized, I can hardly wait to hang our family’s Christmas stockings! The five little cup hooks are already screwed in tightly underneath the wooden mantel, waiting to receive the red velvet loops at the top corner of each stocking. Starting on the left, I fasten our daughter Katy’s stocking, decorated with a beautiful angel in flowing blue robes. Next, my husband Tom’s stocking, decorated with a jolly St. Nick carrying his sack of toys.
On the right, I hang our son Brinck’s stocking, with the handsome Nutcracker surrounded by sugarplums and peppermint lollipops. Then my stocking, the one with the merry snowman sporting a black top hat and carrot nose. Finally, in the center, I hang the biggest, most elaborate stocking of all (a fact which always makes us laugh), the one with the furrow-browed countenance of our loveable pug, Max.
This ritual is hardly burdensome now, but somehow comforting. And as I stand back and survey the five stockings “hung by the chimney with care,” my Christmas spirit bubbles up inside me like champagne. Such delicious anticipation! Excitement! Joy! And a wellspring of gratitude…for Christ and for my family and for all God’s abundant blessings in this life, large and small, known and unknown, past and present and yet to be.
On tippytoes, with arms and gaze upraised, my Christmas angel has the right message for me every day of the year.