With the glow of her friend's call and her treasure of new Christmas cards still upon her, she pondered the possibility of attending the Christmas night services at the nearby non-denominational church. She had toyed with the idea before, but every year the weather or illness or some other handy excuse had kept her from attending any Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services.
The truth was, she didn't really know anyone at the church other than the pastor, his wife and a couple of deacons and them only barely. When she visited, she came in at the last minute and hurried out as soon as services were over. Sometimes it was easier to be lonely by herself than lonely in a crowd, she had discovered. Still... the idea of being with people this Christmas was suddenly more appealing with the warmth of her friends' words whispering encouragement.
The roads were still icy in patches, but the afternoon sun was causing a steady tap, tap, tap from the percussive icicles hanging from the eves of her house. "If the driveway melts, I will go," she promised herself.
By 5:30 on Christmas evening the sun's last rays were barely decorating the darkening sky, and a chill breeze had halted the icicles' thaw, but the driveway was almost clear. Keeping her Christmas sweater on, she hurried to change into a skirt and boots before climbing into her aging vehicle and heading down the hill. All Souls Church was almost packed when she arrived, but she slipped into a seat near the back in time for the first song. As the piano began to play the first notes, she saw in a glance that the alter was decorated with greenery, candles were placed in several strategic places, and small boughs of pine were tied to the pews on either side of the center aisle. The small church glowed with a simple beauty.
The song leader had selected several beloved carols to start the evening. "O Come All Ye Faithful" welcomed the gathering to be joyful and triumphant, and she found herself singing whole heartedly. "Away in a Manger" brought visions of the newborn babe and his humble birth. "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Joy to the World" drew her into the glory and joy of the season.
By the time the pastor began reading from Luke 2, the verses were more vibrant and alive than when she had read them only the night before. Part of that might have been the result of the piano accompaniment, but she realized her heart was more receptive to the story as she drank the words in. She found her heart resonating with a renewed sense of the reality of the words - a Savior, born this day - for YOU. Jesus was not just a babe in a manger, a man on a cross - he was born to be HER Savior.
As the pastor wrapped up the sermon, he asked everyone to stand and greet the person seated on either side. A young mother seated on her left shyly murmured a merry Christmas, but the older gentleman on her right took her hand, pumped it energetically. "I have seen you a time or two but Rose and I never had the chance to meet you," he said indicating the shorter, plump woman next to him. "I am Mark Shelton, this is Rose, and... what is your name?"
"Carol," she heard herself say. "My name is Carol."
"Well, we hare having a covered dish supper at our home after the service and we would love to have you come as our guest if you have no other plans. We don't have any children of our own so we like to borrow as many as we can for Christmas," he laughed. His wife beamed expectantly at his side. All the reasons she had declined such invitations in the past rushed into her mind, into her mouth. Carol opened her mouth to say no with her polite refusal already carefully framed in her mind. "I... I... would love to," she found herself stammering out instead.
"Great!" Mr. Shelton boomed out. "There will be a caravan leaving the church in about ten minutes. Just follow us out there or we can give you a ride! We're not far and someone can run you back if you don't want to drive."
Speechless from her own audacity and wondering when her mouth had turned traitor, Carol could only nod. Forced to sacrifice her habitual safe and hasty retreat, she found herself the recipient of more enthusiastic hand shaking, more introductions, and a rather silly grin beginning to plaster itself across her face.
And so it was that Carol heard her name spoken again on Christmas night after too many days of silence. Surrounded by people she did not know but felt oddly at home with, Carol sang hymns, ate turkey and ham, sipped boiled custard, and shared the evening with other seekers, other pilgrims sharing the same often tearful journey. But, Carol realized, the journey is easier with others to share the joyful moments, and perhaps even to share the painful ones the future would assuredly bring.
Insight was given her then to understand: what seemed to begin with a call from a friend on Christmas had really started some 2000 years ago when a Baby was born on a starry Bethlehem night, a Savior who promised to never leave, never forsake, a God who promised a plan for her life. The encouragement and love of her friends were only a reflection of the love God had for her - a love she promised herself she would explore thoroughly in the new year and beyond. Turning to the young woman who was seated next to her, she said, "I'm so sorry. I've forgotten your name. My name is Carol. What was yours again?"
"...and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen" Matthew 28:20
Christmas on Ice ©2006 by Kathryn E. Darden
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