through the snow
Excited, I tried as hard as I could to stay awake. Noises woke me. Mum and Dad were going in and out of the house. That meant only one thing—it was almost time to go!
I heard Dad’s footsteps coming towards our bedroom and closed my eyes tight. Ever so gently he lifted me up and carried me through the snow to the warming car. The back seat was a makeshift bed full of blankets and pillows for us three kids. We were warmly tucked in. Then we were off. I succeeded in my pretense of sleeping for what seemed a long time, until I could stand it no more.
“Daddy, are we nearly there?”
“I’m afraid not, Denise. But we’re just about out of the city. Then we’re going on the new big highway, the Queen Elizabeth Way, the 401. Try and snuggle down and go back to sleep. We’ll be driving for a very long time.”
The lights of the city shone in through the windows. And the snow brightened up the night. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep.
We were driving through this snowy darkness to get to one of my most favourite places—Uncle Jim and Aunty Kath’s. They lived in a small village about five hours away from our house. They were almost relatives. All our other relatives lived in England, so for many Christmases and Easters and summer vacations we loaded up and went to their house. You see, Christmas and Easter were the busiest times for Uncle Jim as he was a minister. The Vicar, as my Mum liked to say. So we traveled to them.
My nose pushed against the cold window. The snow whirled and twirled. It seemed like we were the only car on the highway that looked like a field of snow! Dad and Mum very seriously peered out the front car window so I snuggled under the blankets and sang in my head until I fell asleep. Dashing through the snow…
What was that noise? I sat up and looked around. Red light swirled around the car and in through the windows.
“Daddy, look! Christmas lights dancing in the car.”
Dad pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.
“Why are we stopping? Are we there?”
Dad turned down his window and a policeman looked inside. I pretended to be asleep.
“Where are you going, sir?”
“To visit relatives for Christmas.”
“Did you know you have your high beams on? It’s against the law to use them in any village, town or city.”
“Thanks for letting me know, officer.”
“Merry Christmas! Drive safely.”
“Merry Christmas!” Dad turned up his window.
“What are high beams, Daddy?”
“The car lights have a switch that make the lights brighter, so you can see better at night.”
I thought about that for a while. It was Christmastime. Shouldn’t all the lights shine brighter, just like the star that guided the wise men?
By the time we reached Aunty Kath and Uncle Jim’s the sky wasn’t quite so dark. Karen, Merv and I were playing around in the back seat and looking for Christmas lights.
“We’re here! We’re here!”
Dad and Mum carried us to the door. Dad knocked. Mum walked straight in. “Merry Christmas!”
Uncle Jim and Aunty Kath hurried to the door while their son and daughter clambered down the stairs. Cheers, laughing, hugs. We were here! We’d arrived. We had come to one of my most favourite places in the whole wide world!
After lunch Aunty Kath, Mum and Dad were lingering over tea and chatting. Uncle Jim had to go “on a call.” I could hear talking, laughing and the noises of Pete, Nicki, Karen and Merv playing upstairs. I wondered if we’d been here long enough to ask. As usual it was drawing me, calling to me. Nervously I asked Aunty Kath if I could go. “Sure you can, love.”
Do you ever get that feeling? Of something calling to you? We often use that excuse when we reach for chocolate or dessert! But, sometimes, in the deepest part of us, we feel something calling us, pulling us. That was the feeling I got every time I visited Aunty Kath and Uncle Jim in their small village. The draw was undeniable and one I didn’t want to resist…even as a child.
It was only next door but I was glad I’d bundled up. It was freezing!
Using all my strength I opened the big, old wooden door, stepped in, then closed it behind me. I stamped as much snow off my boots as I could, and turned on the light switch. I looked around, it hadn’t changed one bit. Quietly I walked over to the old pipe organ and sat on the bench. The silence cocooned me in peace and joy. A hymn book was open at a Christmas carol. The heat wouldn’t be turned on until Saturday night, but I didn’t care. Leaving my coat and scarf on I pressed some buttons, took a deep breath and began to play.
The notes fell joyously into the silence one by one, reverently echoing around the sanctuary.
To anyone else it would have sounded like just what it was, the halting notes of a child playing a pipe organ as if it were a piano. I wished I could play better. I wanted to play perfectly. But, all I could do was my best.
I played until I couldn’t feel my fingers any more. One Christmas carol after the other. I could see my breath dancing as I sang along, the beat determined by how long it took for my fingers to find the right notes… or at least some of them. But even the wrong notes didn’t sound so wrong.
Eventually my fingers couldn’t play any more. I walked slowly around the church then sat in a pew and closed my eyes. In the silence I could almost hear holy words echoing through the decades…
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”
There was a tension in the air as well. A waiting. Anticipation. Yearning. As if the congregations of the ages were holding their breath. Until Christmas. Until the Saviour was born…
“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!’”
…Until they could sing with all their heart and soul and mind. Until they could sing with their hearts full of love. Until they could sing with their best voice. Until the King comes, again.
The road from our home to that small village was long, especially to a young child. Sometimes it was a snowy, dangerous drive. Sometimes the unwanted lurked, ready to distract and delay. As a child I was blissfully unaware of the dangers. Dad was driving so I knew everything would be alright in the end.
For me, it was always worth the long hours of travel.
On Sunday mornings, in that little church, I could see and hear the faith of the congregation. When I was alone I could feel the faith of past congregations. It was as tangible to me as that old pipe organ.
As tangible as the pull to enter that church and just be. Be in the presence of God.
Let’s journey together…