When Love Came Down
December 22, 2002
And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, "Fear not. For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:1-14)
The Word is from the Lord, and comes down from him through heaven to humans; so it has the quality of being divine in every detail. And since it has come down from the Lord, it also goes up to him through the three heavens. (Arcana Coelestia #4279)
Last Sunday, as I sat and listened to our choir sing that beautiful song, "Love Came Down at Christmas," I must confess that my mind drifted back to earlier times and Christmas Eves of years gone by, when my extended family--aunts and uncles, cousins and other distant relatives, more than fifty of us in all--would gather at my grandparent's house in Big Springs, Ohio, to celebrate this special night. It was for us, our own Bethlehem.
Oh, how I remember those gatherings--the rooms that seemed to overflow with people; the beautiful tree that stood in the center of the picture window with presents piled so high that they seemed to reach the ceiling; the white oak table laden with homemade pies, bread, and casseroles galore; the mouth-watering aroma of turkey and dressing inviting all to the feast. And we children, running back and forth through the assembled throng as if that was our only purpose in life. We had to run, you see, in spite of the many admonitions not to do so, for the joy and anticipation that filled our very beings needed to be expressed with both body and soul. And it was. It was.
I can still see my Aunt Freda, who throughout her life endured the crippling effects of the polio she had suffered as a child. With her crutches nestled in the corner, she would sit at the old upright piano and play carols in faded chords that sounded more beautiful than anything our ears had ever heard before. As those melodies began to fill the air, each one of us, from my grandmother right on down to the youngest child, would sing as if the angels themselves were to be summoned by our voices.
Tonight I know that in fact the angels were listening to us. And they came. Their presence lingers yet today in my mind. That is just how glorious those nights were. And as if in acknowledgment of their presence, a silence would fall over that house as my grandfather would rise from his chair to perform the first of our two yuletide rituals--both simple acts that assured each of us that Christmas had indeed arrived once again.
As if responding to a divine command, he would stand and walk through the crowded room, carefully stepping over us grandchildren sitting cross-legged on the floor. He would take his place beside my aunt at that piano, and then a familiar melody would begin to flow from her fingers. And by the words he sang we were reminded of just why we were there: "O, holy night, a star is brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior's birth." As we sat there listening in total silence, had there been room on that crowded floor, we would have each fallen on our knees at his urging. That is just how seriously we listened. We were certain that he sang of a truth that no one could deny. It was a night divine.
As the song ended, all of us knew what was to follow. Without a word of instruction, the evening's second Christmas ritual began. One by one we grandchildren made our way to the stairway and ascended to sit beside one another, filling them from top to bottom. We, who were twenty in number then, took our places no matter what our age.
Once we were seated, my grandmother would walk over to what was for us the sacred ark of that home: an old washstand that had belonged to her mother. We watched as with total reverence she removed from underneath it the object she sought: the Brugler Family Bible. Gently, ever so gently, she carried it to the table, and silence would once again fall upon that house as she turned its crisp, age-worn pages to the New Testament. Opened to the Gospel of Luke, it was passed up the stairway, together with a flashlight, just as they were passed every year. All of the lights in the house were then dimmed. But even in that darkness, each of us knew just what was expected.
With flashlight and Bible in hand, the first grandchild would begin: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." Then verse by verse, grandchild by grandchild, every line of that wonderful story was shared. Twenty verses for twenty grandchildren--a fact that assured each of us of the completeness that we brought into our grandparent's lives.
Grandchildren who could read, each in turn did so. Those who were not old enough to read, but could talk, were told what to say. Those who could not yet speak had their verse read for them. And as the glorious story of our Lord's birth was retold, that Bible would make its way down the stairway, shimmering in the one light, as if the Wise Men themselves were descending across the mountains as they followed the star toward Bethlehem.
But we all knew what was really being passed down that stairway. Love itself was descending once again, as it did year after year, to each person there. That made its coming all the more meaningful. And the certainty of the moment was sealed for another year as the beautiful melody of "Silent Night" was sung without introduction. Yes, with the angels we proclaimed, "Christ the Savior is born." Not one of us there wanted that song to end. And in my memories of those wonderful Christmas Eves of long ago I know, I know, that it has yet to do so.
To each of you, I hope that my sharing has reminded you of just why you are here tonight. On this wonder-filled evening, the light of God's love shines down upon each one of us once again. Of nothing else am I more certain. "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."
Dearest Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, there are no words to express the depths of feeling with which we receive your love, passed down to us from your divine heart, through all ages and in all places. And so we await in silence your wondrous birth. Amen.
Rev. Ronald Brugler