“Such a ‘merry’ & joyful’ Christmas Day as we have never had before, the result of 3 children in the house, for our little Belour’s Matilde is as real a baby as any of them – . . . & the 2 smaller children were in an ecstasy from morning till night.” 25 December 1899
Christmas in Connecticut. A soft dusting of snow powders the trees and ground and rooftops, making the village square Christmas-card perfect albeit unlike the setting of the original Event.
The highlight for my mother-heart was the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, listening to our eldest son, David, proclaim the Word from the elevated pulpit of this historic church. Our six granddaughters, sitting in a row in the boxed pew in front of us, came in close second, filling our hearts with grandparent-love and joy.
While I soaked in the sacred moment, anticipating the Communion Service, the suppressed excitement of the crimson-clad girls was almost palpable. The service, lovely in setting, text, and music, was but prelude to what was to follow: Christmas Eve supper followed by the opening of one present – then Christmas Day with all that promised in giving and receiving, surprises and traditions tried and true collected over the years – all magically orchestrated by Mother-Jodi!
No doubt about it: the celebrating of Christmas was heightened for us grandparents caught up in their unbridled joy of anticipation. One experiences Christmas in a fresh way through the eyes of a child!
And Lilias was no exception. The most unexpected glimmers of grace came in an unusual form. For some time, her colleague Blanche Haworth, had been convinced that she might have some special ministry to the little girl-children running wild in the streets. Then, through a series of unlikely circumstances, two little girls – nicknamed Brown Berry and Pink Shell – came into their lives. Over a period of time, this led to their adoption by Blanche and opened the door to a parade of other children who danced in and out of their home through the years to follow. Though Lilias referred to them as “Blanche’s children,” clearly they stole their way into her heart and ministered to her through their quaint ways and sayings.
The pages of her little leather-bound diary for 1899 are illuminated with sketches and paintings of these children. Whimsical and tender vignettes of the irrepressible little girls are interlaced with reports of discouraging circumstances all around. Laughter and tears, tantrums and hugs filled the house and the pages of the diary. Her entry for Christmas 1899 speaks of “such a ‘merry’ & ‘joyful’ Christmas Day a we have never had before.”
There is much that is somber, even sad, that invades our personal lives and dominates the media. While we cannot evade the dark realities that surround us, we can choose to celebrate the joyful even as we acknowledge solemnity. What better time to “take joy” than during the Christmas Season. People need a place that offers not just solace but also the strength that comes through joy: “The joy of the Lord is your strength,” declared the governor of ancient Judah. “The joy of the Lord’s coming among us must be just that, pure and over-the-top, or we lose touch with the essence, of why John’s Gospel exclaims “the Word became flesh’ and ‘we have seen His glory.'” (Jim Rosenthal)
I wonder: Did God package the advent of His Son in the form of a baby to connect, in a special way, with children? For that matter, who of any age can resist a baby? We do know that Jesus – the Baby-become-Man – had a special place in His heart for children, holding them up as example to what should be our posture before God: “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Rachel Carson in her book, A Sense of Wonder, wrote: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder he needs the companionship of a least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” I would add that adults, likewise, need the presence of a child to keep alive the wonder and awe of the narrative of our Christian faith. Companions in wonder, if not in person, in spirit.
Joy to the world the Lord has come! Let joy course through our beings! Children and adults: Arise, shine! His Light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us!
Put in my heart the spirit of childhood
about which the Gospel speaks.
Teach me how to sow
happiness around me. Amen.
Painting: 1899 Journal