“So what is your Christmas going to be like this year?” That was Henry’s first question to me. He had a way of looking right into me that said he was not going to utter another sound until I answered him. And then no simple “Ok” was going to suffice.
Henry was dying or at least well on his way to his last days. He was once a teacher. He had married, had kids and life seemed to be going well, not spectacularly, just acceptable. That was enough for him. But then he found that a bottle was his best friend. While this relationship rocketed to the center of Henry’s life with promises of long-lasting warmth and well-being, Henry finally awoke to the truth that the bottle was destroying everything and everyone in his life.
Oh, he eventually was able to stop the drinking and began the life-long repair of his relationships. One thing he could not change was his health. His best friend, the bottle, had torn apart his insides and left a trail of cancer. Henry had somehow outlived some of the others, his wife, a brother and even one of his children. But now the end of Henry’s life was more than just a dim shadow.
“C’mon Eric, tell me about your Christmas this year. Going to be another spectacular celebration?”
“I don’t know Henry, each year the glow of Christmas seems to dim a little more.”
“Well as you get older your eyesight is not as good but, do you have what you need to be happy this Christmas?”
I looked more closely at Henry, a little unsettled, and wondering just where he was steering me. But I bit anyway. “Sure, there is family around and they will be coming over. My wife made lots of cookie and there are gifts and the tree, lights and music. I just love Christmas music.”
“So you have everything you need and this year will be the best Christmas you can remember.”
“Henry, how do you expect me to answer that? Who really knows what is going to happen any day much less on Christmas. There are so many things that could go wrong and make it a disastrous day. I will just have to wait, see what happens and make the best of it.”
Henry just sighed and closed his eyes. After a minute or so, I wondered if he was even breathing anymore and thought to myself, “No, this will definitely not be the best Christmas ever.”
Then Henry sighed again and said,”Greg, let me tell you about a couple of people. And since I am a perfect gentleman, I will start with the woman. Her name is Rose. I have known her a couple of years and then some. She is a looker!” (That was a comment I did not expect) Without missing a beat, Henry opened one eye, “C’mon Eric; I’m not dead yet.”
“Now Rose is a person who works very hard in a job that no woman should have to do. And she is very good at what she does. She works to support herself, and her mother and brother who live in another country. Rose is also a person who has a heart for others and helps out many less fortunate than her. She cannot go see her mother this Christmas so she will buy herself a tree, decorate it and spend time with other relatives who live closer to her.”
“And she will also take some time during her Christmas “holiday” as she calls it to take part in her true passion–dancing. Someday she hopes to open a dance studio of her own. She she has a goal. So that is how Rose will celebrate her Christmas.”
“Before I ask you if she is going to have a great Christmas, let me tell you about Franco. He is an attorney who lives in a far better neighborhood than Rose. His house is so large that he needs to hire four cleaners just to keep it in good order. He does not have to decorate his own tree, or buy ornaments or worry about having a goal. He has arrived.”
“Franco will celebrate Christmas this year by inviting thirty of his friends to his home for a party. The night before Christmas Eve will be spent eating the best food and toasting each other with the best champagne that money can buy. By noon the next day, the house will be cleaned and everything put back in its place and Franco will spend Christmas Eve with a few too many drinks and welcoming Christmas snoring on his couch alone. He likes it that way.”
With both eyes open and that laser-like stare again playing into my eyes, Henry asked, “So, Eric, who will have a more memorable Christmas–Rose, Franco or you?”
“Henry I think you are setting me up but I really think mine will be better. I do have family around which Rose has some, but not her mother and brother, and Franco has no one. Christmas does not really appear to get as much emphasis in their lives. I mean, I put a lot of effort into celebrating Christmas. It is an important holiday to me.”
Henry sighed again, something which I have grown to fear after knowing him for a while. “Well Eric, the way I see it, I reckon there’s no difference among the three of you. Rose will put her tree away and go back to her job, doing the best she can to help out her mother by sending her money whenever she can. She will continue to help out others too. She’s doing good things, but always having to struggle.”
“Franco, well by the day after Christmas, his beautifully decorated tree will be empty and stuck in a snow bank. And he will go back to his law practice, successful though it may be, with his goal of becoming more famous and prosperous. But Franco, too, will struggle on alone.”
“And you, Eric, will eventually put away the decorations, stop playing Christmas music and your life will go on until next Christmas when you start the whole thing again.”
“Henry, you are depressing me now. Is that really so bad?”
Another sigh and then finally, Henry said, “Well at least I think I have your attention now. Like most people, stories are only useful to you, Eric, when they hit you where you live. ”
Henry picked up a worn book as said, “Eric read something for me. It is in Luke chapter 2. Just read the part that is underlined. It tells of the visit of the shepherds to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem”
And so I read out loud:
When they had seen him, they told others the message they had been told about this child. And all who heard it were amazed by what the shepherds said to them… And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:17,18, 20. Evangelical Heritage Version (EHV)
Then he continued, “You see if Christmas is all about trees and music and dancing and parties and even families, you three have it right. But that all ends in a short time as you heard and may soon experience. That is this world’s Christmas.”
“Truth be told, Christmas is really about a King who gave up his throne for a while, to be born here on earth into a dusty, hard life for one purpose. Jesus was born in a wooden manger to live a perfect life and then die on a wooden cross. By doing that he paid for all of the sins ever committed. Of that I am not sure if Rose or Franco or even you are aware.”
“But the shepherds knew. That is why they told everyone they saw about what they had seen and heard on that night. Rose and Franco need to know that Christmas is not something dragged out each year, enjoyed for a while, and then put back into boxes or into an attic. It is an everyday, no, an eternal celebration.”
“Ok Henry, you make a good point. Something for me to think about between now and Christmas. I think I would like to talk more with you. But now I have a question for you. How do you celebrate Christmas? And will it be a good Christmas for you this year?”
Again the sigh followed by Henry’s only smile the whole time we had talked.
“Eric, I just celebrated and oh my, this is a wonderful Christmas.”
As an end note, Rose and Franco are real people. I can only pray for them. And Henry, well, someday I hope to be more like him. He does Christmas right.
Hope you come back sometime. I will wait you. And if you do not, I wish you a blessed Christmas–the celebration of our Savior’s birth.
This is a song that tells of the birth of the Savior even though this was not the kindest place into which he was born. Sorry for their promo at the end.