“Mommy, if Daddy isn’t coming home for Christmas, are we going to have a Christmas tree and stockings and presents?”
Swish, Swish…the windshield wipers smudged the red and green traffic lights.
Jennifer sighed. “Yes, Honey, we will have presents and a tree and stockings at Grammy’s house.”
“Will Daddy have a Christmas tree and presents?”
“Yes, remember? We sent him a box of presents.”
“But what about a Christmas tree? Do they have Christmas trees in Iraq?”
The headlights looked like a string of popcorn and cranberries.
“I don’t know, Hon. Maybe he’ll get one somehow.”
My dear Jenn, I really hoped and prayed that I would get home for Christmas, but I’ve been called on another mission before going on leave…
“Is there snow at Grammy’s house, Mommy?”
“I don’t know, Cindy. Probably not, but maybe it will snow soon.”
“Is there snow where Daddy is?”
“No, Cindy, I don’t think so. It’s a desert, but it gets cold at night.”
“Mommy, how far is it to Grammy’s house?”
“Cindy, why don’t you look at the pretty lights? Look at that snowman on the roof.”
“Oooooo… Look at that one, Mommy!”
Her little voice blended with the jingling music from the radio, but Jennifer didn’t hear either.
Do you remember our first Christmas together? I gave you that vacuum cleaner and you gave me socks. Neither one of us knew too much about giving gifts back then, did we? I wish I had some new socks this year.
The red and white car lights blurred. Jennifer wiped her cheek. Cindy was singing “Away in a Manger” with the radio. The rain finally stopped and left the world glistening wet.
“Mommy, what is a manger?”
Jennifer sniffed and wiped her other cheek. “Huh? A manger? Well… a manger is a box where the cows eat.”
“So, why did Baby Jesus sleep there?”
“Because there wasn’t any other place for him.”
All of a sudden, Jennifer wasn’t sure of the story of Baby Jesus. Wasn’t there something about an inn and shepherds? It had been so long.
“I’m not sure, Cindy. We’ll ask Grammy tomorrow.”
Jenn, when I get home, I’d like to go to church sometime. I’ve been thinking a lot about God over here. Do we have a Bible?
“Mommy! Mommy, look!”
Jennifer gasped. The traffic had thinned, and as they passed the last steet lamp, the stars sparkled in the black sky. A row of lights outlined each street, up and down… block after block.
“Mommy, can we stop?”
Jennifer pulled into a parking lot, circled by the row of lights. They marked a pathway to the door of a church. The arched windows glowed. When she turned off the motor, she could hear chimes.
“Mommy, where is everybody going?”
“It’s a church, Honey. Maybe we can look inside.”
Jennifer trembled as they stepped through the doors. A man smiled and handed her an unlit candle. Another escorted her to a long bench. A woman scooted over. She whispered, “Welcome,” and smiled at Cindy. Soft organ music filled the room. Soon the ceiling lights dimmed and two young boys walked to the front row. They lit the candles of those nearest the aisle. The flickering flame passed from candle to candle down the row. Soon the boys came to their row. Jennifer lit her candle and passed the flame to the woman. The room filled with little lights. Jennifer wiped her cheek.
A man stood up behind a podium. “And his name shall be called Jesus…”
Like hot cocoa on a cold night, the old words sank deep and warmed her heart.
A young girl in a white robe stood beneath a white spotlight. Her hair glowed like a halo. Her voice sounded like an angel.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head.
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."
Yet pealed the bells more loud and deep,
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."
“Mommy, are you crying because we don’t have a real Christmas?”
Jennifer held her close. “No, Honey. I’m crying because THIS is the real Christmas.”
"I Heard the Bells" words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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