He came to us, Emmanuel, God with us.
We gathered together around the Christmas buffet, twenty of us, three sons with their wives and their children. We held hands and thanked God for being together this day. We thanked him for the food laid before us, and we thanked him for his great gift of himself. Alleluia.
Each of us had known both joy and suffering during the year, had met our own challenges, private and public. Each of us had become a slightly different person, formed by the choices we had made, the path we had taken. The changes in some were subtle – some of us were triumphant, some were weary, some were in love. Some had grown wise. Some had grown foolish.
I thought about my own year as I looked into their faces. I too had known all of these things – love, suffering, joy, the challenge of choice at each turning. And I was thankful that Christ was in the choices, in the choosing, at least for the most part. When he wasn’t there, I generally chose wrongly, and most often became aware of sin taking hold of my heart. Then another turning, a repenting, a new beginning again with more choices.
And so I was thankful that Christ came among us as he did, that he too suffered, that he too made choices and experienced our human-ness. He knew the love of his disciples and he knew betrayal in the garden. He knew how to serve, to wash the feet of his friends. He knew our hearts then and today, in each minute of our choices. He knew the love of the Father was so great that we would be brought home through himself, the Son, that we would be raised on the last day.
Incarnation. God in the flesh.
We attended a local church for Christmas Eve Mass, an afternoon service so that our grandchildren (six and nine) could attend. It is a historic mission-style church with dark wooden rafters and white stucco and vivid stained glass. The sanctuary blazed with lights from two giant Christmas trees. The Bethlehem manger scene was set out in front of the trees and I looked forward to the children’s Christmas Pageant. The church was packed – folks stood along the side aisles and wedged into the pews. We sang carols and listened to the Gospel accounts of Jesus come among us, born to Mary, watched over by Joseph in a humble stable. A bright star appeared. Shpherds knelt. Kings offered gifts. We welcomed Christ into our world and our into our own hearts with great fanfare, drums and song.
On Christmas Day, those golden moments hovered as I stirred gravy and heated potatoes, tossed spinach with candied walnuts and mandarin oranges. They lingered as I spooned cranberries into white ceramic pitchers. A platter of shrimp was set in the next room, an offering before the Christmas tree and as the guests arrived, their laughter and greetings flavored the dishes of brown-sugared yams and sausage stuffing. The turkey lay sliced in its bed of parsley alongside platters of yeast rolls and cornbread squares.
We gathered around the buffet in the kitchen and prayed our thanksgivings. We took our places at two long tables. We toasted family and Christmas, Christ among us. And I knew as I looked at the faces of three generations pulled to my table this Christmas Day that Christ was indeed among us.
Emmanuel. God with us. Merry Christmas!