I unwrap past Christmases with each ornament and hang them on the tree. The bell from Uncle Bob. The angel Mom gave me one of the Decembers I was too sick to decorate with the family. The ornaments Dad brought back from business trips. The ones I made in preschool. The heavy 125-year-old orbs passed down from Great-Grandma. The ornaments chronicle my life almost as well as the Christmas album does.
One year Mom turned a fat, ordinary, three-ring binder into a padded, fabric-ed, lacy album. Decades later I still love flipping through the forty-plus years of Christmas pictures. Children have been born and had children themselves. Faces have disappeared. Traditions have evolved.
Tonight I sit in the dark as Christmas music fills the air and the lights of the tree play off the ornaments.
The memories are thick. Dozens of loved ones crowd against me on the loveseat. I hear the laughter and feel the hugs. I smell the lingering scents of dinner and see the platter of cookies and candies Mom has made. I hear my brother’s voice reading the gospel account. I catch a glimpse of the Advent calendar with all the flaps of the story opened. I feel my own conflicted longing for the quiet that will descend once the crowd leaves and the longing to never be parted from these ones I love.
Tears threaten to spill from my blurring eyes. Because this year some of those faces will only be present in the album.
The tree lights smudge. As I blink the tears away I see the crèche on the hearth. In the dim light I catch the outline of a kneeling Mary cradling the infant Jesus.
And in that yet to grow and die and rise again representation of my Savior hope overcomes my pangs of grief. The sorrows are real. As are the joys. And someday this dying world will be made new. The tears will be wiped away.
Jesus is coming . . . again.