("A Birth Most Imminent" first appeared in December 2009)
It was a cherished ritual with us--myself and my two daughters. At least once a Christmas season, we would bundle up against the cold, get in the car, and take a grand light tour, stopping off first at a gas station for tall, steaming cups of some specialty holiday coffee or cappuccino. Then, with music of the season playing in the background and us joining in, we'd head for the most spectacular displays we could find, the ones where folks stopped their cars, dimmed their lights, and sat for awhile to take it all in.
You know the spot. You have one in your town, most likely. Perhaps it is a neighborhood where on a special night the streets and walkways are lined with luminarios. Or maybe it's the home of a retired man whose hobby is converting his garage into Santa's workshop and his lawn into a quiet Bethlehem scene once a year.
Giddy-yap, giddy-yap, giddy-yap! Let's go! Let's look at the show. We're ridin' in a wonderland of snow.
We usually visited the flashiest displays first, before wandering onto quiet streets. One night, colored lights shone through a fresh layer of snow, turning neighborhoods into a surrealistic winter wonderland. We rolled the car windows down, willing to endure the cold in order to hear the sound of our tires crunching snow. The icy glow of a nearly-full moon added to the mystery of the scene. We were in an upscale suburb, and most of the properties were decorated to some degree. Brightly-lit Christmas trees stood where they could be seen from the street, electric candles glowed in each window, and wreaths of fresh evergreenery hung on heavy doors of wood and brass.
Let's take the road before us and sing a chorus or two. Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.
One house stood out for its lack of adornment.
"Stop," I said to my older daughter who was driving. "Let's go back to that house."
Both daughters asked why. "I can't explain it, but I just think that we should carol the people who live there."
My younger daughter who was sitting in back leaned forward. "Do you know them?"
"No. That doesn't matter."
We went back, parked the car, and walked up to the door. I knocked firmly, and, without waiting for an answer, we began to sing in three-part harmony, as we often did at church.
Silent night. Holy night. All is calm, all is bright.
The door opened, and there stood a young man and his wife. He had his arm around her to warm her.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.
The young woman looked up at her husband and smiled.
We wish you a merry Christmas! We wish you a merry Christmas! We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year!
"Thank you. Thank you so very much," said the woman. "I'm in labor. We're on our way to the hospital. And I was not looking forward to the ordeal ahead of me. But I know I can make it, now. I really needed to hear your lovely caroling."
"Yes," the man said. "Thank you. And merry Christmas to you, also."
On our way out of that neighborhood, God gave us another blessing. A family of deer numbering seven or eight wandered onto a broad, snow-covered lawn just as we were about to pass. Again we stopped the car and dimmed the lights. The deer lingered, watching us watching them. For several minutes we sat there, sipping the last of our drinks, cold by now, before heading for home.
There's a birthday party at the home of Farmer Gray. It will be the perfect ending of a perfect day.