by Fr. David May.
The little boy ran anxiously to the window and looked down the driveway. Still no car! When would they ever arrive? It seemed like they should have been home hours ago … but still no sign of them.
He ran back to sit in the old tan-colored armchair, but he couldn’t stay there long. Once again, he jumped down and scampered to the window, pressing his nose against the cold pane. It was a crackling December day, hardly a cloud to be seen.
The months had passed so slowly since that day last April when his mother had told him that one day soon he would have a new brother or sister.
As a matter of fact, everyone had presumed the child would be a girl. Some 3½ years ago, Grandmother had prayed for a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. And one—himself—had duly arrived.
Now she had let God, the angels, and anyone else within shouting distance know that she was hoping the next one would be a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl, dark like her great-grandmother.
According to reports from the hospital, that is exactly what had transpired. How could it have been otherwise if that’s what Grandmother had prayed for?
Just then the boy heard Grandfather’s big Buick—affectionately know as "Black Beauty"—pull into the narrow driveway adjacent to the house. The man jumped quickly out of the car (he was only 43) and ran around to open the door for his daughter.
The young woman slowly got out, carrying in her arms a bundle wrapped in a yellow woolen blanket. As she walked to the back door, the boy ran excitedly to greet her.
"Can I see her, Mommy? What does she look like? Is she asleep?"
"You sit over there, son, and you can hold her. I’ll put her in your lap."
He scurried across the kitchen and jumped into the big chair. Then his mother placed the snoozing bundle into his arms.
"What color are her eyes, Mommy? I can’t see them."
"You’ll see when she wakes up," came the reply. "But don’t wake her now. Let her sleep. After all, she’s had a big week."
Suddenly Grandmother was on the scene with the old box camera, and a flash of light exploded in everyone’s faces.
"I want that picture on film," she explained to the dazed little group.
Some years passed and once again Christmas came round. By now both children knew whose birthday it was and why the dark December world was flooded with such light and joy.
They would spend at least a few moments every day admiring the family’s crèche and talking to the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.
It was easy to imagine him as part of the family. He seemed so at home, even cozy, lying in the manger among the animals, Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and the kings. A silent angel hovered above them holding a banner proclaiming God’s praises.
Easy, that is, until the year of troubles came. The children weren’t old enough to understand what a recession was. But they soon became acquainted with the fear of poverty. It permeated the house like a chill, invisible cloud.
Would there be enough to eat? Would there be clothes enough to wear? Would there be money to heat the house? Would they be able to have Christmas this year?
Yet something worse than the fear of hunger invaded their lives. Mommy and Daddy had had one argument after another. Now Daddy was gone, leaving much sadness and bitterness in the wake—and more fear. And now they were far away from their grandparents’ home. They felt so isolated, so alone.
Despite everything, they somehow managed to find a tree and to decorate it. And the crèche was set up in its customary place nearby. Yet the Child and his friends brought little comfort to the children’s hearts that year.
The fear, the darkness, the tears, all seemed so much greater—and so much more real—than a clay figure lying in the straw.
Christmas Eve arrived, and with it came three packages from home. The children fairly jumped with excitement when they saw that they and their mother had each received a parcel. Even she was able to smile through her weariness.
On each package, there was a stout warning written in Grandmother’s bold script: Do Not Open Until Christmas!!
As they placed the parcels under the tree, the little girl noticed an envelope taped to her package." What’s that, Mommy?" she said.
"I don’t know; let me see." The woman picked up the parcel and read it. Again, the handwriting was clearly Grandmother’s.
"What does it say, Mommy?" the girl asked impatiently.
"Let your brother read it. He’s old enough."
The boy confidently took the package and read it aloud. "It says, ‘For the child. Open on Christmas Eve.’"
"But that’s today!" he said.
"Did Grandmother send a gift for Jesus?" his sister chimed in.
Their mother took back the package. "I guess she did. I wonder what it could be."
Very carefully, she tore the tape loose from the parcel until the envelope was free. It was so light that it could hardly contain more than a couple of slips of paper.
"Well, let’s open it!" said the girl. "I want to see what gift Jesus got this year."
"Grandmother said to open it now," the boy added.
The mother was as curious as they were, so she quickly found the letter opener and slit the envelope. Inside was a light piece of cardboard and a photo.
"Why, it’s a picture of us. It’s the one Grandmother took when I brought your sister home from the hospital and put her in your lap. Do you remember that day? It seems like ages ago …."
"Of course, I do. You don’t remember though, do you, Sis? You slept through the whole thing, and besides you were quite young …."
"So let’s give it to Jesus like Grandmother said," the girl retorted, cutting her brother short as she often did when she didn’t like his train of thought. "And since it was on my package, I’ll put it next to him."
With that, the little girl took the photo from her mother and carefully placed it at the foot of the Child. Unlike herself some years earlier, he was fully awake—eyes open, arms outstretched in welcome, as he lay in the manger.
The three of them stood silently for a few moments, looking at the Christmas scene. Finally, the woman spoke: "Maybe things will be all right after all."
"Grandmother gave us to Jesus," her daughter said. "So, of course, they’ll be all right."
That night the little family slept more peacefully than they had for a long, long time. Above them the silent angel proclaimed to all the world the praises of God made man.
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