Moments from now a mother and her three children, children who for at least one more Christmas are still filled to the brim with I can’t wait, they will gather in this same kitchen built for one person, at the most two. But that reality will force them into one another’s personal space, crossing boundaries and borders, bumping into each other, spilling flour on the floor the beagle will promptly lick clean. This mother and her children will make sugar cookies for the old Saint.
The radio in the corner is tuned to their father’s favorite AM station, a station playing the crackly spectrum of Christmas carols, songs that sound old, songs pregnant with words and phrases like noel and Christ the Lord, songs sung by old people named Conniff and Mathis and Como. And that precious Karen Carpenter.
A candle burns on the stove. The label says balsam. The aroma whispers love.
A tree is lit in the room next to the kitchen, the room this family calls the den. It is a room built for two, maybe three, but not five and a beagle. But that reality compresses people into a couch, like last night, huddled and scrunched, shoulder to shoulder, you put your feet that way I’ll put mine this as they watched a classic like Holiday Inn and agreed with all they are that Fred Astaire’s feet, as they danced upon this earth, were a gift on the order of gold, frankincense or myrrh.
There are presents beneath the lit tree in the den, presents that will be stacked later today according to name, an equal number for each of these wide-eyed children, or so was planned. These children are still in their pajamas, pajamas that will be abandoned, grudgingly, later this evening for dresses and khakis as this family of five trudges across the highway to the Lutheran church with the green roof. There this father and mother and their valuable children will still themselves amidst lights and holly and hymns and candles to repeat words and phrases like hark and God and sinners reconciled.
As I write from this kitchen table, both witness and character in this story, my mind, heart, soul and strength cannot help but think of those families separated this Christmas by war and rumors of war. I don’t always speak literally, but in this moment I am. I think of those families who are minus one this Christmas for he or she, the one, sits in a land that does not know of words and phrases like snow or peace on earth. And I voice a prayer from my kitchen table for those dads and moms and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and friends so dear wrapped in camo and sand and I plead please Christ the Lord, bring them home safely and soon to kitchens and candles and beagles. I know they are fighting for goodwill toward men but the fight oft seems strong and long and far too many of them will never again watch Astaire’s gifted feet or hear Karen’s glorious voice. These things should not be so. Please keep Terry and Nathan safe from the way of harm. And give their wives and children grace, extra grace, Christmas grace. Amen.