I am like most people. I tend to do the same things the same way, over and over. Even in church, I gravitate to the east side, sitting in about the same pew each Sunday.
Sunday (December 9) I was running a little late. So as to disturb as few people as possible, I slipped in on the west side of the United Methodist Church, and sat in a west side pew.
Many of you know that the Hays Methodist Church has beautiful stained glass windows. By moving to a new location, I was able to see a set of windows that I do not ordinarily see—the east windows.
This was not the first time I had this view. While the view was the same as it was on those rare other occasions, it was just as spectacular, as if it was a new sight.
As I sat there, with the church decorated for Christmas, I thought about Christmas past and my family.
I always lived miles from my grandparents—the closest being 250 miles, the longest, 560 miles. But as a child, regardless of the distance, my parents packed us up and we headed to Fort Worth for our annual celebration. Even after my parents divorced, my mom and step-father continued the tradition.
And every time, every time, we were greeted with my grandparents coming out of their house, whether early morning or late at night. My grandmother would pull me into her, hugging and kissing me, telling me how “handsome” I was. My sister would go to my grandfather, “Poppa”, who would pick her up in his giant arms and call her “sissy”. Then we switched. In the house we were met with smells of macaroni and cheese, pumpkin pie, turkey dressing, and much more.
After I married Barbara, we had three sons. Barb’s parents lived in Wichita. They had their own traditions for Christmas. When we went to their home, we were met with the bustle of preparations for a large gathering. Many foods and their smells were of Mennonite origin, including bohne-beroggi and pfeffernusse. Soon a turkey would be placed in the smoker, and Barb’s dad and I would check it throughout the night to be sure it was ready for the noon meal the next day. Tradition.
After we married, each year Barbara and I coordinated visits between my grandparents and my wife’s parents. Many times it saw us on the road on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or the day after Christmas. And it was with three little active boys in the Suburban for hours! But we made it to both places, every year.
Gosh, it was hard. And it was special and wonderful and meaningful. It was just another Christmas.
Sunday, as I sat in church, all those memories rushed at me. Barb’s parents, and my grandparents and parents, are now gone. I wish I had one more Christmas with all of them—just another Christmas. But our memories, and those of my sons, are still here. They still warm me.
As I was looking out the east windows of our church, through the stained glass, with the sun streaming in, we sang a song “People, Look to the East.” Just as we finished the last line of the song, the dark shadow of several birds flew by the windows headed to the North. I felt like it was my grandparents, my parents, and Barb’s parents, flying free, but letting me know they are still with us.
Christmas is here again. As the stain glass windows, it is the same. But I hope you will look at it from a different angle and see how spectacular it is. I hope you will appreciate that all the effort you put in to be together is worth it. Now and for generations to come.