The children are lying on the living room rug, their stomachs distended with turkey and Christmas cake. Our guest, Fr. Brian, turns a beaming smile on them, lights his pipe, and seats himself with a sigh on the old rocking chair beside the wood-stove. He is content just to soak up the family atmosphere and listen to our children’s after-dinner banter.
“Tell us a story, Father,” they cry before long. The priest has a reputation for stories. More than that, he has all the time in the world for children.
“What kind of a story?” he asks.
“A Christmas story!”
“Well,” he says, pondering, his eyes growing thoughtful, “I think I do know a true story about a gift that was given on a Christmas day many years ago. But no, it’s too strange.”
Now they’re hooked. “Yes, yes, that one! That one!”
“It’s full of grown ups, “ he murmurs, “Nazis and war and things like that.”
“Yes, yes,” they squirm with anticipation.
His eyes go far away and his brow furrows. He rocks back and forth slowly, slowly, and the room grows quieter.
“I’m quite serious, when I tell you,” he says, “that this is a true story. I saw parts of it with my own eyes. I lived with the family to whom it happened.”
Advent has begun, the time of waiting when we turn toward the coming dawn with renewed expectancy. Each year in the liturgical cycle we are invited to pray with the entire Church for the rebirth of Christ within the stable of our hearts, and for the graces we will need as we await his final coming. The scripture readings are about hope arising in the midst of darkness, of beginnings and endings and the eternal joy when there will be no more endings. Until that ultimate homecoming, we live in a world that is still in the process of being restored in Christ. The Christ Child is among us, and so is Herod.
Every year or so I read aloud to my children Charles Dickens’ great classic, A Christmas Carol. Most of our six have also reread it quietly to themselves and watched the three better known film versions of it. There are always new lights to be found in just about any Dickens novel, and the Carol is no exception. You find yourself laughing at something which last year you found not in the least funny; this year you’re choking back a sob where last year you were left untouched.