Last week, oldest daughter, one of my sisters, and I joined Dad for his Christmas party at his care center. Before Santa visited, the residents, visiting family members, and staff members sang carols. Silent Night. Joy to the World. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. The usual well-loved songs. When the program director announced we’d be singing Away in the Manger next, one of the residents called out, “How far away?!”
His question made me pause.
Sometimes Bethlehem seems far away–farther still at Christmas, depending on our hurts and losses and those we’re missing most. But Christ came, not to make our lives easy, but to reconcile us to God so that we can live a life of love. (Easier said than done, I know.)
There have been moments this Christmas season when Bethlehem has seemed very near to me, including yesterday while I was shopping at four different grocery stores. Sure, they were crowded. But everyone was amazingly polite, allowing others to go first, smiling and wishing others a Merry Christmas.
This morning I shivered as I watched the video of 10,000 people gathering to sing carols to a dying girl, fulfilling a wish on her bucket list. (Brave the ad and the first minute of chatter and you’ll get to the beautiful singing.) I couldn’t help but feel close to God’s gift to the world while listening to the voices of so many loving people.
Spending time with my Dad brings Bethlehem close too. He’s ninety-years-old. He misses his wife, parents, and sister–who have all gone on before him. He misses his home. But he’s content. He’s always happy to see us. He’s never bitter about his current situation. I see God’s grace in him.
As we sang Away in the Manger last week, I felt that swelling of nearness to God, that holy moment of worship.
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me for ever and love me, I pray to
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And take us to Heaven to live with Thee there