O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above your deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.
One of my favorite Christmas Eve activities is singing with my family. We sing everything from traditional Christmas carols to Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You” to “Happy Birthday” while we blow out a candle for the baby Jesus. But, the year that My Mom, my sister, and I got to sing a trio of Michael W. Smith’s “All is Well” on Christmas Eve tops all of the other musical memories. It was 1995, a year of big bangs and even bigger attitudes, and I spent most of our rehearsal time arguing with my sister about who got to sing the melody. I won, of course. The thing that stands out to me most, above all of the bickering, was the peace that I saw on my Mom’s face when we finished singing. That year we had lost our grandfather suddenly, and my very sick grandmother was living with us, so the words “All is well,” were in no way a reflection of what was really happening in our life. But when I looked at Mom, she was silent, (which is a miracle in itself) and she looked like she was at ease. It was as if she knew, that even in the midst of grief after losing her father, and in the fear of what was to come with her mother, that there was hope. In my mind, Mom’s face that night was the same face that Mary had as she “treasured those words and pondered them in her heart.”
A few years later, in my last year of college, I was back in my hometown for Christmas break. On Christmas Eve, one of my friends stumbled her way to my house to seek refuge after a drinking binge. She arrived at my house without warning, because that’s just the kind of friends we are. We sat on my bed, surrounded by my luggage and unwrapped Christmas presents and shared a cold Diet Coke and my Mom’s Christmas cookies. As we stuffed our faces with goodies, we looked at old pictures of us in high school – pictures of us that held such promise. We had big dreams. Then she told me, while mascara ran down her face, that she was sure that she had successfully ruined her life because she had gotten a DUI that semester. I held her hand, looked into her smudgy, bloodshot eyes, and told her the exact thing that I, too, needed to hear – that there is no such thing as a ruined life. We sat in silence on my messy bed and ate our tears away. Then we laughed and shared secrets until she sobered up, while our hopes and fears spun around us like whirling dervishes. That was not the kind of communion I was expecting to partake of on that Christmas Eve, but nothing will ever convince me that those butter cookies and Diet Coke weren’t holy.
Just a few years ago on Christmas Eve, I sat on the couch in my sister’s house and felt my nephew flutter in her belly. He kicked when I sang, so of course I sang often to annoy my sister. That same evening I watched my friend document her daughter’s battle with leukemia on Facebook. They had decorated the hospital room with Christmas lights and somehow found smiles through all of the pain. The incessant blinking lights of the medical equipment were certainly not the kind of “light in the darkness” that they were expecting, but I saw a sense of hope in their eyes. That year I carried both my sister’s great hope for her new child and my friend’s great fear for her daughter with me as I revisited the story of the nativity at church. Both of their stories held a place in my heart that night.
Tonight I will join my church family as we participate in a Christmas Eve Candlelight service. Some of us might be content while others find themselves in a fresh hell. The good news is that there is room for all of our stories. We will light our candles and sing our familiar songs – of our hopes and fears of all the years. May they be met in Christ tonight.
Ashley Robinson is the executive assistant at Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.