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December 22, 2014 - Kim Moore [see other posts]

The Nativity

Christmas Presence

As a child, I was lucky to have two grandmothers living close to me. Both had lost their husbands (my grandfathers) at what is now a young age (late 50s, early 60s—when I was in first grade). My mother's mother, Grandmother Cox, lived in Longton where I did. I stayed with her a lot on Saturday evenings and other times when my folks were gone for the evening. She was short and heavy-set, cooked at the school, and was a barrel of fun. Christmas at her house was filled with games, all kinds of delicious home-cooked food, inexpensive but age-appropriate gifts, and lots of relatives, especially my cousins. We went to her house for Christmas Eve and sometimes back for Christmas Day evening.

My Grandmother Moore was a different story. She lived “up the road,” in Moline (another small town). She did not work outside the home at any time in her life. There were no other relatives at her house for Christmas—just Mom, Dad and me. She had stomach trouble so the food was often bland and unfamiliar to my young tastebuds. She did not drive and was limited to gift shopping in Moline where a small department store and a drug store—unimaginable in a town that size today—provided all the shopping offerings for her. As a result, her gifts to me were often not a lot of fun and Christmas day activities were eating, dozing, visiting and reading. Needless to say, we (yes, Mom and Dad were part of this) set our watches ahead of time for when we would need to leave. And so, this particular year when I am age 12-14, we made our excuses for leaving before supper (nothing was planned at the Cox end but we wanted to get home) with feeding the cattle, checking the oil lease, etc. and left around 4.  

As we were leaving, I looked back and saw my Grandmother standing alone on the porch looking after us as we drove one block before hitting old Highway 160. Something in my young mind (or heart) found her loneliness disturbing. Within a block or two as the highway wound through town, I was asking if we really needed to go home now or could we go back and have supper with Grandmother. Decisions among the three of us were never fast or firm. We could decide and re-decide things many times (just ask my wife Cindy). This was no exception but, finally, Dad did turn the car around and we headed right back—having been gone a whopping five minutes.

The house which before had seemed so tidy, barren and cold was now warm and familiar. As Grandmother and Mom busied themselves in the kitchen putting together an unplanned supper and Dad and I sat around the formica-topped, steel-legged table, the slight aroma of natural gas from the old stove was not off-putting but strangely comforting. The home canned beets, the warmed up green beans, slices of Longhorn cheese, and left-over ham were just fine for a Christmas supper. The conversation flowed now with remembrances of past Christmases, amusing stories of relatives I never knew, upcoming club meetings—we were all in clubs of some sort—the animals in our lives, and all sorts of small town comings and goings. When we left after dark, we had had a genuinely good time. In a way which even today I cannot quite explain, Christmas had arrived for all of us most completely when we returned to Grandmother’s house that day.  

Looking back all those years, I still am amazed that we broke out of our own normality to share ourselves more fully with Grandmother. Even more amazing is the unexpected truth that in doing so we received a great gift as well. I had always loved both my Grandmothers and had been cared for by both of them.   This event, however, forever changed how I saw Grandmother Moore and her role in my life. She would outlive Grandmother Cox and live long enough to hold a tiny great-granddaughter my wife and I were blessed with. I later understood the great, unremitting sorrow in her life: the death of her only daughter at age 18 due to appendicitis (just ahead of penicillin’s availability). After that Christmas of the unexpected return, I was closer to her and gained a new understanding about Christmas.

At the human level, Christmas was and is the expression of love and belonging one to another. Some of us are blessed to experience that in families and friends. Some persons this Christmas season will stretch their regular patterns and experience the opportunity of being with persons outside their normal acquaintance or re-unite across brokenness with families and friends. My expectation is those persons likely will find new joy. Hopefully, everyone will find that antidote to aloneness with some persons God puts in their Christmas paths.   

On the cosmic level, Christmas is about the presence of God among us—Emmanuel. God broke the normal pattern of divine/human existences and came to earth in a vulnerable manner outside the expectations of humanity. It is not possible to understand the mind of God, and foolish to attribute human emotions to the Eternal One, but it is hard to imagine that the sending of His special Emissary to earth was easy. The message of Christmas was for our family and is for families throughout this earth: YOU ARE NOT ALONE; I AM WITH YOU—unexpectedly, mystically and always. As we seek God’s abiding presence this Christmas, we may just find it in the shared presence of others who are also open to its appearance.  That is what happened to a young small town Kansas kid, his parents and his Grandmother many years ago as we joined together for Christmas not with our normal ‘hopes and fears of all the years’ but the possibility of new joy and love.