My identity is not important—age, gender, or ethnicity. The year and circumstances make little difference either, other than to know it was a cold Christmas night when this miracle occurred in my life. And though the memories are distinctly mine, vivid and unforgettable as if years had never passed since their transpiring, I sincerely hope through this retelling of events you will acquire every thread of understanding I gained in a remarkable moment of truth.
It was cold enough to snow, yet warm enough to melt every flake that touched the ground. I sat outside on my front porch, bundled in the warmest wrap I could find. Inside, the sounds of merriment tickled my ears—a celebration of Christmas among friends and family. I was missing their exchange of homemade gifts, having put no thought or effort into the task. Christmas didn’t thrill me like it seemed to for so many others. And as I sat in the darkness staring up at the twinkling aura of a particularly bright star, I wondered what exactly this holiday was meant for.
I pulled the wrap more snugly around my shoulders while contemplating a string of traditions practiced yearly at this time. What was the big deal about observing silly rituals? Why the extra jollity and efforts this time of year?
What was Christmas really all about?
I’m not sure how to explain what happened next, only that everything seemed quite natural in its occurrence. The shimmering star that had locked my eyes upon it—a celestial light I knew to exist far far from my world—suddenly changed perspective, appearing within my sight as if it hovered above me at an arms throw. I blinked a number of times thinking my focus would return to normal and the star would once again hang sensibly in the heavens. Instead, every flitter of my lashes produced a change in the star that revealed with decreasing brightness a male figure centered within the light. He was beautiful beyond description—white, radiant, and smiling down upon me. The thought occurred I’d passed on to the afterlife. Perhaps, unawares to my conscious self, I'd frozen in the cold and suffered death. Was this radiant being God?
The man’s smile broadened as if he found amusement in my thoughts, and I worried he could actually read them. Anxiety made me sink lower, pulling the woolen wrap up over my hair. The blanket warmed me, and so I doubted I was dead.
“Fear not,” the man said in the softest voice ever to caress my ears. "Your prayer has been heard.” I assumed then he was an angel. To think God would personally come for me was suddenly a highly-vain notion.
The smiling messenger reached out his hand, and I stared at it, wondering how light appeared to radiate from every inch of his skin. It turned out he stood even closer to me than my perception gave him credit for. I blinked again, disturbed by the way distance seemed an incalculable thing in my eyes.
“Fear not,” he repeated. “Take my hand."
“You heard my prayer?” My forehead tightened at his words. I didn’t recall offering one.
Suddenly, his radiant palm was pressed against my chest. “In here,” the angel explained. “He knows all your heart’s desires.”
I wasn’t sure whether to attribute it to the glowing touch of an angel or the knowledge that God actually knew me, but a warmth beyond any physical source consumed my chest. All my fears dissipated.
Again a hand was extended to me in offer, and I took hold.
As inept as I’d proven myself to be at perceiving distances, it seemed time and travel had also elected to bewilder my senses. For I knew we were in motion, and yet my discernment was of the world revolving around me and my heavenly guide. A whirlwind of chaos encircled us, slowing within a blink to a nighttime sky. I noticed one difference among the stars, however. A brighter light shone above the others, penetrating the darkness more effectively than any star I’d ever witnessed.
“Christmas,” the angel breathed, following my gaze upward.
“This is Christmas?” I asked, wondering. “Is this what Christmas is about? A star?”
The angel smiled. “Not entirely.” He continued to look up.
“Is it about Heaven?” I asked, broadening my guess.
He flickered a glance at me with his beautiful, bright eyes. “Not entirely.”
I watched him as he watched the heavens, the two of us still holding hands, for I was afraid if I attempted to sever our bond I might fall to the ground over which we hovered. It wasn’t my intent to gawk at him, but withdrawing my eyes proved a difficult thing until something more amazing than a celestial companion lured my focus skyward again.
Singing, rich and harmonic and penetrating, affected me first. Such beautiful carols I’d never heard before. As my eyes swept across a choir of angels, I held my breath in awe. They were singing hymns of joyous praise. Carols of a newborn king—the Christ child.
I listened silently, my heart affected so profoundly as to bring tears to my eyes. The whole time my guide squeezed on my hand, beaming. It wasn’t until the choir began to fade that I noticed a meager audience of sheep and shepherds gathered beneath them, witnessing what I saw.
Then we were suddenly standing among the shepherds, mingled in their numbers as if we belonged with them. I could understand their acceptance of me, wrapped in a woolen blanket resembling their draped attire, but I knew not why my companion received no incredulous looks. Perhaps because of the messenger angel above?
“Fear not. For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
After a final chorus of praise, the angels went away. I was sad to see them go, to have their inspiring music no longer permeating the atmosphere. Naturally, I sighed at such a stark loss.
My glorious companion sighed likewise. “Ahhh, Christmas.”
I nodded. “Is this what Christmas is about? Singing carols and songs of heavenly praise?”
The angel smiled kindly at me. “Not entirely.”
“Is it about the message then? Is Christmas about heralding Christ’s birth?”
I was given another patient smile. “Not entirely.”
We separated from the shepherds, our feet touching the ground now, stepping along a dirt road. I felt secure enough to let go of my companion’s hand. He released my fingers readily. Our walk remained quiet; hushed but for the nocturnal sounds of herding country. I pondered the things that had transpired—the message delivered by heavenly hosts to humble, poor shepherds willing and ready to hear. This was the first Christmas. This was Christ’s birthday. What else would Christmas be about if not Him?
I had taken a few steps beyond my angel guide when I realized he was no longer at my side. Turning back, my eyes opened up, aroused from my deep, inner reflecting. We were standing in the shadows of a lowly stable. Stone, wood, and straw were arranged as shelter for docile animals. A small light shone from within, sustained by a single candle. I squinted to make out two silhouettes that appeared joined. Mother and Baby.
I couldn’t help but ask, whispering, “Is that Him?”
The angel nodded, his smile tempered by reverence.
“This is the first Christmas,” I said, making sure my understanding of events was correct.
The angel nodded again, concentrating on the newborn child.
“Christmas is about the baby, Jesus.” I declared.
The angel’s smile reappeared as a result of my certainty. “Not entirely.”
I crumpled my brow, frustrated, but a large shadow distracted my attention, appearing from the back of the stable. A man approached and knelt beside the mother and child. His arm fell gently around the woman, his free hand careful to cup the babe’s head. He leaned in to kiss his wife. The picture touched my heart.
“Is Christmas about family?” I asked.
I mouthed the echoed response. “Not entirely.”
My eyes flickered from the forms beside a manger to my companion. It was strange that his brilliance didn’t light the darkness within that stable. But what hadn’t proved strange so far? I was about to question his definition of ‘entirely’ when the scuffing of collected footfall caught my ear. I twisted my neck to find strangers approaching—shepherds in rags and sandals followed by men garbed in finer, richer fabrics.
“The wise men?” I guessed.
My companion nodded.
I watched as the visitors cautiously approached, waiting for permission from the stable’s occupants to come close enough to witness the Christ child. I wanted a closer look myself and followed the others across a carpet of strewn straw. I watched the wise men kneel to place gifts at the mother’s feet. She appeared truly grateful.
“Is Christmas about gifts?” I asked. It was a holiday tradition spanning the ages, to be sure.
The mother, a pretty young woman, held up her baby for all to see. His features were reflected by candlelight. He was asleep. Adorable. He appeared so tiny and fragile, snugly wrapped in a single blanket.
“He came to save the world,” the angel told me. “To suffer and die for all of us.”
I nodded. I knew that.
“Is that what Christmas is about?” I asked. “Christ’s purpose? His suffering and death?”
There was no smile on the angel’s face when he turned to me, only gravity in his eyes. “Not entirely.”
I sighed. What in the world was Christmas about then? I thought of the few Christmases I’d celebrated in my own lifetime—gathered around family, singing carols, exchanging gifts, retelling the story of our Savior’s humble birth, rehearsing by heart the angel’s tidings of joy to the shepherds. Was this not what Christmas was about?
When the others stepped back, I knelt before the new mother, questioning her with my eyes as to whether or not it would be okay to touch her child. She smiled with understanding and held him out to me. Her gesture offered that I might cradle him in my arms, but I couldn’t make myself do it. To hold my savior was a privilege I was unworthy to accept. I yearned to at least touch him, though. With a trembling reach, I let my hand fall gently against his cheek, so soft and warm. I feared for a moment my touch might be too cold, but the baby stirred and turned his face toward me, his little nose nuzzling in my palm. I exhaled raggedly and chuckled at this. My breathing stopped entirely when his eyes opened up.
He looked right at me.
I couldn’t turn away, even when my sight blurred with tears. His tiny fingers moved to wrap around my one, clasping on. Behind him, I caught his mother’s smile as she assured me, “He loves you.”
I bawled like a baby at her words because I knew they were true. His life, his actions—they proved it to be so.
It took some time to regain my composure before I could speak again. My companion waited patiently for my eyes to dry. He was nodding before I even asked the question.
“Is Christmas about love?”
As my angel guide departed to take his place in the heavens, I found myself once again seated on the porch outside my own house. I looked up in time to catch a shooting star. The laughter of friends and family carried to me from inside. Rising to go join them (wondering what the chances were they would believe my miraculous story) I heard the truth proclaimed in the quietest, piercing voice. Words of a loving Father. Words I resolved that very Christmas night to forever abide by.
“For I so loved the world that I gave my only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Love one another, even as I have loved you.”
Copyright 2012 Richelle E. Goodrich