As I gaze over the decades of my life, pleasant memories float through my mind that comfort me, and wrap around my thoughts as a warm blanket of comfort. Life was fueled by learning a variety of faith stretching lessons daily as we were confronted by the challenges of in a foreign culture. My idealistic, conviction-laden husband found himself a junior pastor at the International Church in Vienna, Austria. Because it was one of the most expensive cities to live in, in the whole world, we searched for a proper place to live with a 2 1/2 year old princess, and the expectation of a baby boy yet to be born. Clay and I found a house with a friend who came to live with us for a year.
Our aged, crooked home was a tiny gray stucco bungalow, 900 square feet for 5 people to squish together and craft out a lovely life. Rooms as big as closets, rain that would pour down our walls–inside–when it rained and overflowed the roof, and an attic where pigeons would fly through the holes and get stuck in the attic. But the energy of young love, toddler glee and discoveries every day with a newborn son sang happiness and vibrance of life every day. Joel, had just been born by an Austrian midwife in the hospital down the cobbled street on a cold, windy November night. Growling when he was hungry gave us pause, as we had never heard of a baby that growled instead of crying. Sarah toddling around, would tell everyone who would listen that “Dod had diven us a baby boy–just like Desus was when he came to Mary on Christmas!”
Having heard the the story of Jesus’ birth in the dark of our chapel one evening, she was sure that Joel was our own Jesus and she would look out the window each evening watching for the angels to appear to sing him a song.
On Christmas Eve, we thought our little orphan home had never looked more beautiful. Crimson candles shivered and waved each time someone would ring our bell to signal their arrival. and pushed open the front door. Our tiny antique square table that was built for 4, was laden with the swirling lights, of candles, winter fruit of red apples, golden pears and large polished hazel nuts. All crowded around in a mismatch of 8 wooden chairs, content to share in the friendly companionship of the festive evening as no one wanted to be alone on this frigid Christmas Eve.
Our party was quite motley but so happy to be together. A young Austrian woman, whose spouse had just abandoned her for another man; a young secretary from the United Nations from Taiwan; a refugee who had escaped his Middle Eastern country by hiding and running out of the borders, as the secret police chased him; and a young missionary from England, lonely on his very first time away from his family in England. Sarah sat chattering in my lap and talking about the angels. Our friend living with us helped me serve the shepherd’s meal and we all sang Silent Night as a prayer, because it was the only carol everyone knew.
Hearts were opened by the beauty of bread, cheese and warm herbed soup was served as we spoke of the shepherd’s who had received Jesus that first Christmas so long ago. My heart was warmed by friends from such different cultures who shared our table and celebrated the love that whispered his reality through the moments of the evening.
Four different languages were our mother tongues, as to philosophy, one Catholic, one “Evangelish” (Lutheran Reformed), a Baptist Asian and an Anglican joined us, as our agnostic guest listened and looked on with curiosity and with an open heart. I remember thinking that this is what heaven would be like, all unified, all tied together by the sharing of friendship as we celebrated His first coming, together, worshipping from our own traditions, but grateful for the Divine Love that had kissed our evening with His presence.
Twenty-seven years later, as I view the internet landscape, it seems to me that rather than focussing on the love Jesus spoke of–(“They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another,”) I sometimes see division, pettiness, and mean-spirited criticism or just subtle condemnation flowing freely from the computers of fellow believers, to people differing from their pet convictions. Often I receive blunt criticism from people who have never met me but suppose to know me. it is possible for all of us to feel alienated and hurt by the divisions, but, as I always told my children, it is natural to fuss and have discord, but it is supernatural to have unity and to love well. It is a secret of the Holy Spirit to be able to give us love to cover all of our differences.And so I choose love and grace to extend to those who disagree with me. After all, I have so often fallen short of my own ideals, it would be wrong of me to stand in judgment of others who do what I might have done.
I wonder how heart-broken Jesus must be at our creating Christian law out of our personal beliefs and using that law by which to measure the motives and heart of others who may differ from us. And then using, at times, harsh words, to separate us from each other.
Once Joel read me an article that said there are over 143,000 denominations of Christians throughout the world. Then, glancing at me with a sparkle in his eye, he said, “I wonder which on of them is the right and perfect church, that really understands Jesus the best?!”
As I reflect on my long ago Christmas Eve, I feel the assurance that Jesus had knit our souls together, in our one creator, and mutual savior dispelling all differences and uniting our hearts closely together with His love.
Christian unity is possible with a variety of backgrounds when Jesus and His love is the central celebration point of unity that we share.
I understand that you, my friends who read my blog, have different doctrinal beliefs, different and strong convictions about how to celebrate Christmas or values about how to live life, and I choose to trust you and your walk with God in having made those decisions. Yet, it is my desire that everyone who comes here, will find Christ, His truth, His love, His messages about life and His Divine love which will unify all of us when we see Him face to face.
Let us not focus on our differences so as to make Christian law out of our own personally held beliefs, while judging other’s motives by our own man made laws. But let us please the heart of Jesus as we bow before Him, seeking to please His heart by our own grateful and humble praise of Him who has given His all that His children might get along.
Even as I desire my children, and all who are at my table, to share in the happiness of fellowship and joy at the meal I have prepared for them to enjoy, so I imagine Jesus preparing that last feast for all of us, where we will celebrate His return and our final redemption and He hoping for our unity and grateful hearts.
Let us please our Father’s heart by loving one another in the way He so wanted his children to live. Let us live in the Spirit of His love this Christmas.
Peace be with you, the Lord is near!