Cameras -- ready -- action. The big night has arrived. All the practices, dress rehearsal, memorizing and costume making are about to pay off.
Now, if only the memorized lines aren't forgotten in a moment of stagefright, if only the songs are sung on key and in rhythm, if only the costumes fit just right, if only the props are at the right place at the right time, if only Mom and Dad, Aunt Susie and Uncle John, Grandma and Grandpa are in their seats, the curtain can rise.
The spotlights come on, the music begins, a hush comes over the audience and expectancy fills the air. The angels, all algow in their trailing, feathery wings and glitter-sprayed hair, enter at stage right. The choir voices boom over the PA system, "Gloria in Excelsis Deo!"
The shepherds at stage left quake at the sight as the angels proclaim, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."
The pageanty begins. Banners, streamers and flags are flowing, candles are glowing, music is playing, angels are dancing, and the Star of the East is glimmering down upon the Christ Child snuggling in his mother's arms, eyes wide open, unaware that his birth is the reason for all this commotion.
I have been a participant in a few such productions, involved in many hours of shopping, sewing, choreographing, practicing, and polishing for the big night. It was the highlight of my Christmas season.
Once the music stopped, the lights went down and the congregation departed, Christmas was over. I gladly gave of my time and my talents to celebrate the birth of my Savior and Lord. But, now what?
Christmas is a magical time. People are more giving, more caring and more friendly than at any other time. Their thoughts turn to the less fortunate as soup kitchens are stocked; turkeys and ham and all the trimmings, pies and cakes and fudge and candy canes and fruit are handed out in abundance at the mission; bell ringers are manning the kettles and angels are adopted and dressed, shut-ins are caroled to and visited; cards and newsletters are sent to family and friends highlighting the past year's events; blankets and hot soup are dished out to the homeless, as well as coats, gloves and hats.
And then ... the day after Christmas arrives. Life gradually returnes to a humdrum existence. The giving isn't as publicized and the givers aren't as prevalent. The homeless and less fortunates' needs aren't as noticeable. The shut-ins are forgotten. The soup kitchen's stock dwindles down to nothing until pleas for help are issured.
Gifts are returned and exchanged, the flickering lights are packed away, along with the angel costumes, the shepherds' crooks, and the manger. Churches aren't as full for Mom and Dad, Aunt Susie and Uncle John, Grandma and Grandpa sleep in on Sundays.
Smiles and warmth and caring give in to depression as the new year looms before us. Once again we are enveloped in ther reality of a not-so-perfect world with news of war, job cuts, stock market plunges, winter storms brewing, heating costs soaring, famines and droughts, crime and drugs, smallpox and anthrax, higher taxes, higher medical costs, pay cuts, abandoned and abused children, snipers on the loose, road rage, terrorism, etc., etc.
In the mist of all of this doom and gloom there can be a peace. Just as the angels proclaimed on that Holy Night of the Christ Child's birth so long ago, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." He came to give a "peace that passes all understanding."
Again, prior to His departure, He left us with these words, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
Remember these words when the Christmas magic is over and all is packed away. Christmas goes much deeper. It's about a Gift that keeps on giving. It's about Peace in a very troubled world. It's His Gift to us. A Gift we must not pack away, nor return, nor exhange.
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