United Baptist Church
You are cordially invited to the annual Christmas candlelight Service at the United Baptist Church in South Jefferson on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 4 p.m. This early evening service promises to fill you and your family with the meaning and beauty of the Christmas season. Afterwards, we hope you will stay and enjoy some fellowship with your neighbors and friends at church. Also, in keeping with our church tradition, the Christmas Cookie Swap takes place. Just bring a plate of Christmas cookies to share, and take home a delightful variety of sweets from the swap.
I wake this morning to the silence of the snow. Something is different; the house is quiet beyond words. The road is silent. I feed the cats and coax them out the door for some fresh air. The people going to work are few and far between. Their cars crawl; there won’t be school today. Winter has come, at last.
Perry and I take our time over morning prayers and scripture. We read aloud from a little book about Advent that he has used for years. It is ever so pleasant, this delving in to the wisdom of the season. The daily page speaks of the dreams that prompted Joseph, the worldly father of Jesus, to act in accordance with God’s will. Joseph dreamed about the next steps of his own life, the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and how to protect this child coming into this world, this holy child that came to shepherd the lives of countless souls.
We grow silent over morning coffee. The cats come in from the cold and we watch them sleeping under the Christmas tree. In the gray dawn, we turn on the Christmas tree lights. The tree is beauty in the dark and that cheers me.
I find myself wondering about the meaning of Joseph’s dreams and the tenuous journey he made with Mary being great with child. I ask myself: In the midst of growing weary, did Mary also ponder some bit of beauty along the way?
“Let’s put on coats and hats and boots and go for a walk,” Perry suggests, and we don our outdoor gear for the cold and snow. “When we come in, I’ll make pancakes and we’ll have some more coffee.” The thought of the cleansing air and the quiet snow and his offer to cook breakfast is incentive enough for me.
Outside, we drift through a snow-covered meadow and notice the wild animals have wandered near our house. Until now, we were unaware of this. The snow buffers our footsteps that only last week crunched underfoot on autumn leaves. “I wonder when they are out and about,” Perry says, meaning the animals. Indeed, the habits of wild animals can be a mystery. It occurs to me that the animals have their own paths to travel, living through a harsh season like winter, and we have ours.
The tracks of a porcupine go back and forth to the little stream that runs along the west edge of our property. The stream is small, yet it always runs, no matter the season. It meanders through a wooded area lower than the rest of our land, and the trees are a protective cover for the animals to get water at any time of year. I bless this stream that provides life-giving water to living things.
We see the red berries are resplendent along another edge of our property and there are dark evergreen junipers also growing there. In the gray air and the snow-covered ground, the red berries stand out in a jubilation of color that lifts my heart.
I think of the red cardinals we watched a few days ago, flitting among the branches of the forsythia just outside our windows. There were several dusky female cardinals, and we waited for a while before the brilliant male cardinal darted into view. In silent wonder, we witnessed the bold scarlet cardinal before us, a blaze of color amid the snow. Within a short time, all the cardinals moved on.
We mention the cardinals several times that day. It is a bird our dear friend, Patrick, loves. He tells us it was his mother’s favorite. He reminds us that the week before she died, the red cardinals were in the branches of the trees at her window and they cheered her so. The cardinal was my mother-in-law’s favorite bird, and my own dear mother loves the cardinal as well.
As I go about my day, I consider the beloved cardinal, the sentinel of Christmas. Here, in the dark of the year, as the snow and cold drops from the Arctic with a certainty that takes one’s breath away, the cardinal is a bird of joy, of life, of color — uplifting and confronting our senses with delight.
There is kind of protection to gather in as we admire and enjoy the cardinal, a solace born of wonder. Real joy is seeing the cardinal’s brilliance of red against the snow. Real joy is remembering and celebrating our mothers who taught us, like the blessed Mother Mary, to know and love great beauty as it unfolds before us.