A friend wrote to me the other day: "I walked the dogs late last night in the cold crisp air. I love these December nights. They get me thinking about that night in Bethlehem when the shepherds went to the birth of Jesus."
Whenever I think of the scene of the Messiah's birth, I'm left with a sense of awe at the unquestioning humility of Mary and Joseph making their way in the darkness to an unknown destination, trusting the promise of an angel that they were to prepare for the birth of the Savior. After all, we know how the story turned out.
But it was less than a spectacularly regal setting while walking along with a donkey that night in the dark. They proceeded though, in obedience and love, on the first Christmas Eve.
Like millions of others, I adore Christmas Eve. It holds such hope and expectation. It represents the coming of unprecedented peace and healing. All the Christmas Eves I've known, wherever I've been in the world, sparkle with a quiet joy. One stands out especially, though.
After a festive family dinner out at a neighborhood restaurant in New York City, I was walking arm in arm with my collegiate son. As we rounded the corner to walk up Fifth Avenue, a freezing wind tunneled down the street. We had to push against the snowy blast toward our apartment. I shrank from the weather, pulled closer to my big, strong son, and couldn't wait to get home.
Years before, I'd been healed through Christian Science treatment of a serious respiratory illness, but I had a lingering dread of cold winds. I was well wrapped up in a cozy coat, hat, gloves, and scarf, and happened to glance over at my son dressed in a thin blazer. (Overcoats were not cool.) His eyes squinted in the snowy wind, but I realized that not only did he not mind this weather, he looked exhilarated! In that split second I understood that my fear of the cold was completely mental. It occurred to me for the first time that I didn't have to dread the wind.
As we made headway up the avenue, I recalled a discussion in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." The author, Mary Baker Eddy, commenting on the mental nature of all things, wrote this passage: "You can even educate a healthy horse so far in physiology that he will take cold without his blanket, whereas the wild animal, left to his instincts, sniffs the wind with delight. The epizoötic is a humanly evolved ailment, which a wild horse might never have" (page 179).
Right then and there, I opened to the idea that I, too, could "sniff the wind with delight." And at once, I took a deep breath. It was lovely and refreshing and harmless, without the accompanying dread I'd felt just moments before.
With a shift like that in my thought, a completely new view, I felt an indescribable freedom and release. In a sense, I felt Christmas. Now, whenever I glimpse a new and liberating idea and it takes hold and changes me, I consider it to be one of those moments of true Christmas.
The shepherds went quickly to greet the new Messiah, the Christ. At the angel's announcement, they must have anticipated new and fresh ways of thinking and living. They and others hopefully and eagerly welcomed this spiritual way of seeing God's creation. The Christ represented freedom in the broadest sense from mental repression and domination.
Just as Isaiah promised of the Christ's coming: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn" (Isa. 61:1, 2).
Now, I, too, love these crisp December nights. They remind me of the promise of more moments of Christmas - moments of fresh views by way of the saving Christ, God's message of love and freedom for all.
for thy light is come,
and the glory of the Lord
is risen upon thee.