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My Most Memorable Christmas
By Catherine Marshall. Marshall (1914 - 1983) was a noted Christian writer perhaps best known for her novel Christy.

We spent Christmas 1960 at Evergreen Farm in Lincoln, Virginia--the home of my parents. With us were my sister and her husband--Emmy and Harlow Hoskins--and their two girls, Lynn and Winifred. It meant a typical family occasion with our three children, Linda, Chester, and Jeffrey, along with Peter John who was then a senior at Yale. Five children can make an old farmhouse ring with the yuletide spirit.

For our Christmas Eve service, Lynn and Linda had prepared an improvised altar before the living room fireplace. Jeffrey and Winifred (the youngest grandchildren) lighted all the candles. Then with all of his family gathered around him, my father read Luke’s incomparable account of the first Christmas. There was carol singing, with Chester and Winifred singing a duet, "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," in their high, piping voices. Then my mother, the storyteller of the family, gave us an old favorite, "Why the Chimes Rang." She made us see the ragged little boy creeping up that long cathedral aisle and slipping his gift onto the altar.

Then she said, "You know, I’d like to make a suggestion to the family. The floor underneath the tree in the den is piled high with gifts we’re giving to one another. But we’re celebrating Christ’s birthday, not each other’s. This is His time of year. What are we going to give to Jesus?"

The room began to hum with voices, comparing notes. But Mother went on, "Let’s think about it for a few moments. Then we’ll go around the circle and each of us will tell what gift he will lay on the altar for Christ’s birthday."

Chester, age seven, crept close to his father for a whispered consultation. Then he said shyly, "What I’d like to give Jesus this year is not to lose my temper anymore."

Jeffrey, age four, who had been slow in night training, was delightfully specific. "I’ll give Him my diapers."

Winifred said softly that she was going to give Jesus good grades in school. Lynn’s was, "To be a better father, which means a gift of more patience."

And so it went... on around the group. Peter John’s was short but significant. “What I want to give to Christ is a more dedicated life.” I was to remember that statement five years later at the moment of his ordination into the Presbyterian ministry when he stood so straight and so tall and answered so resoundingly, "I do so believe.... I do so promise...." Yet at Christmas time, 1960, the ministry was probably the last thing he expected to get into.

Then it was my father’s turn. "I certainly don’t want to inject too solemn a note into this,” he said, “but somehow I know that this is the last Christmas I’ll be sitting in this room with my family gathered around me like this."

We gasped and protested, but he would not be stopped. "No, I so much want to say this. I’ve had a most wonderful life. Long, long ago I gave my life to Christ. Though I’ve tried to serve Him, I’ve failed Him often. But He has blessed me with great riches--especially my family. I want to say this while you’re all here. I may not have another chance. Even after I go on into the next life, I’ll still be with you. And, of course, I’ll be waiting for each one of you there."

There was love in his brown eyes--and tears in ours. No one said anything for a moment. Time seemed to stand still in the quiet room. Firelight and candlelight played on the children’s faces as they looked at their grandfather, trying to grasp what he was saying. The fragrance of balsam and cedar was in the air. The old windowpanes reflected back the red glow of Christmas lights.

Father did leave this world four months later--on May first. His passing was like a benediction. It happened one afternoon as he sat quietly in a chair in the little village post office talking to some of his friends. His heart just stopped beating. That Christmas Eve he had known with a strange sureness that the time was close.

Every time I think of Father now, I can see that scene in the living room--like a jewel of a moment set in the ordinary moments that make up our days. For that brief time real values came clearly into focus: Father’s gratitude for life; Mother’s strong faith; my husband’s quiet strength; my son’s inner yearning momentarily shining through blurred youthful ambitions; the eager faces of children groping toward understanding and truth; the reality of the love of God as our thoughts focused on Him whose birth we were commemorating.

It was my most memorable Christmas.

Family Moment

Think of all the memories we’ve had as a family during Christmas through the years. What memories do you count as the best? Why?

How could this family make our memories even sweeter than they already are?

An Advent Prayer

Father God, show us how precious each family member is this season. Teach us to number our days so that we might honor you and love others. Give us anew appreciation of how unique and beloved each of us is to the others. Amid the things that bother us the most, let us not lose sight that you have made this family what it is. Help us rest in your wonderful plan that we should go through life together for all of  the days we have breath. We’re grateful, and our hearts are filled with love for you and each other. Amen.

Today's Advent reading is from 25 Days of Christmas by Greg Johnson. Greg Johnson is the author of more than 20 books.  He is President of WordServe Literary Group, a Denver-based literary agency that serves more than 100 authors (www.wordserveliterary.com).
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