The turkey was out of the oven and resting in its golden skin on the cutting board, waiting for the knife. The cranberries were cooked in their sugar syrup, the potatoes mashed, the green salad chilling in the fridge. A small crèche sat on the damask-covered dining table, in its nest of evergreens and fat red candles on pedestals, and silverware framed each place.
The doorbells began to ring at three-thirty with the first grandchildren and their parents, and soon they gathered before the fir tree festooned with lights, ornaments, and silver garlands, a wobbly star at the top. One granddaughter seemed taller, nearly a young lady at eleven, pushing the edge of adulthood, curious to know, wanting to see. Her twin brother was somber and wide-eyed, moving through the rooms silently, absorbing worlds of his own. Perhaps, I thought, he will be the poet, the cook, the artist. Perhaps he will build things.
My mother, nearly ninety, arrived in a furry coat, bringing more Christmas into the house with her festive air, carrying promising items: aromatic sweet potatoes with brown sugar, a bag of gifts. I hugged her, thinking how I missed my dad, who passed away many years ago.
Soon another son and his family appeared in the foyer, laden with things to cosset their children through the evening. The six-year-old glided in, looking tired after many visits to other relatives that day, her eyes large and serious. The three-year-old hung over his mother's shoulder, waking from a nap, his legs dangling.
My husband poured drinks as I carved turkey and assigned a granddaughter to stir gravy, and soon we assembled around the tree for appetizers and gifts. The evening slipped away with cries and laughter, paper torn from boxes and stuffed into brown bags, bows saved carefully for next year. We moved into the kitchen and held hands around the buffet table. We gave thanks to God for our Christmas dinner, renewing the bonds of family on this holy day.
Each of us had taken different paths since we celebrated Christmas last. We had suffered and had grown in ways known only to ourselves. We had triumphed, loved, known joy. We had built and we had pulled down, had faced crossroads and made choices, and here we were once again, celebrating this holy day of mystery, when God became one of us. I knew that He continued to be among us, caring about those choices, dwelling close.
Not all of us around our table believed in the great Story of Incarnation. Not all believed in God, let alone that He came among us as He did. But whether recognized or not, we had experienced His love weaving us together through bad times and good times, and in this way – through sacrificial love – we knew Him.
We may not always have sensed His presence, but we knew the life beating in our veins was not mere animal. We knew that we were something more, and on this day we reached to the infant in the manger-cave to understand.
We took our places at the long damask table with our plates loaded with sliced turkey and trimmings, thankful for family and love made incarnate.
Christine Sunderland, author of Pilgrimage, Offerings, Inheritance, and Hana-lani (all OakTara), formerly Vice-President of the American Church Union and Church School Director for the Anglican Province of Christ the King, lives and writes in Northern California. http://www.ChristineSunderland.com http://mytravels.ChristineSunderland.com