Dear Heavenly Father—I see all of my past Christmases as pages in a photograph album, each year a separate picture. Tomorrow there will be 80 pages. They begin with my earliest foggy memories—a doll, a stuffed Scotty dog, a trike. And then the pictures are clearer—the 8 of us including three grandparents. Some years there are fewer of us in the photo—first grandparents and then my father who died when he was 52.

There are funny pictures—the year Mother made me a green velvet skirt, but she didn’t have money enough to take the nap into consideration, so I had a dark green velvet skirt in front and a light green velvet skirt in back. I was narrator at the church service that year, and embarrassed. Mother said people would see me walk up the aisle and then down the aisle—no one would see me from the side. It’ll be fine, she said, and so it was.

We didn’t have a car during the war, so we took the bus to the Christmas Eve service; friends drove us home, all crowded into the back seat. My box of cheap candy, in a church-shaped box, spilled, and my heart was broken. A boy from catechism class gave me a gold bracelet—I didn’t have the sense to invite him in, but I still have the bracelet.

I remember the Christmas in 1973 when I had my first spinal surgery and spent 6 months in a body cast. My hospital bed and trapeze were decorated with lights and tinsel; two days before Christmas, the cast was sawed off and I could sit again. No more meals balanced on my chest—I could sit at the table like a real person! Finally I could bend and sit after 6 months of immobility! I felt like a queen despite the pain of muscles unused for six months.

I look at the photos and I see sadness—my sister in law’s drinking becoming a problem. My brother losing the will to live. My brother in law, an engineer, so deeply in the grips of his obsessive compulsive hoarding disorder that he lost his last job working in a giant junk yard because he refused finally to sell anything, no matter how it was exactly what the customer wanted. He so wanted to hold on to everything.

I see failures and betrayals, disappointments and sadness. I look out the windows and wars rage—WWI, the Korean War, the War in Viet Nam—on and on, war after war. Clustered around the tree are human beings, failed human beings, coming together to celebrate good tidings of great joy. We are imperfect creatures who gather to celebrate perfect love.

Can I rewrite history? Yes–I can go over each photo and forgive each beautiful person, not beautiful as in Hollywood or model beautiful, but beautiful because they were alive and real, struggling to do the best they could with what they had—what they knew. I can look at each face and say I forgive you—forgive me. I can be one with them, that modern day group of shepherds gathered around a tree—around a manger—and say, “With tonight’s gift we become perfected in love, in forgiveness. There is only this good news of great joy for us—for all people.”

And so Lord, I pray tonight that as we open the Christmas album of our lives– each individual here this morning–we will find there the beauty God intended, the beauty of imperfect people celebrating God’s perfect love. May we find pardon and love, may we be able to come together around a manger, around the good tidings of great joy, and rewrite the past to make it beautiful and whole. May we never stand so tall as when we kneel together around the birth of love, becoming ourselves perfected. May this Christmas enable each of us to find God’s presence in the pattern—in the photos—or our lives. Amen.

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