When I lived in London some years ago, I found that to be away from your family for Christmas doesn't have to be lonesome. In fact, when you open your heart to loving, it can be wonderful.
My family – my mother and I (both widows) and my two teenage sons – had come to London to wind up a seven-year adventure of living, working, going to school, and learning the language in other countries. After a year, the boys went off to college and my mother returned to California. I stayed in London.
With a good job and a nice place to live, I was fine at first. But then, as the holiday season approached, I realized I would be all alone for Christmas. I got gloomier by the day.
As always when I've felt distressed about something, I prayed. And along with my prayer I studied the Scriptures, soon discovering this passage in Psalms: "God setteth the solitary in families" (68:6). Then I began reasoning: What is the essence of family? What qualities do I feel I've always brought to my own family? Answers began flooding in. Tenderness, understanding, compassion, patience, joy, lovingkindness. The list is endless. And I could never be separated from any of these qualities because I expressed them within my own being.
All right, I told myself. Express them, consciously, every day, to everybody. Beginning right then. So I did.
In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, wrote, "With one Father, even God, the whole family of man would be brethren..." (pp. 469-470).
I got so peaceful and happy thinking and behaving like a member of God's vast family that it seemed perfectly natural to get a phone call from my brother's German mother-in-law, Helen, inviting me to join them in Celle for Christmas. In addition to mother, Helen, there would be father, Wilhelm, and brother, Heinz. My family for Christmas. I already had the essence of family in my heart. And here it was in my life.
I arrived by train in Hannover about midafternoon on Christmas Eve. Heinz was there to drive me the short distance to Celle, a Christmas-card town of cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, and carriage lamps. When we arrived at their flat, Helen and Wilhelm were waiting outside to greet me. How kind it was of me to join them for Christmas, they said. What a joy it was to have me with them. That Christmas, I could feel in my heart how we were all members of "the family of man."
After settling me in my loft bedroom, Heinz gave me a little background on my favorite Christmas Carol, "Silent Night," which we would be singing at the close of the church service that evening. The original lyrics of the carol, "Stille Nacht," were written in Austria by a priest, Joseph Mohr, in 1816, and two years later Franz Gruber, a headmaster, wrote the music.
As I reflect today on that Christmas Eve, it seems like yesterday. Walking to church with my precious family. Sitting close together on a pew next to the glittering Christmas tree. And then the singing. More than 300 voices swelling to fill the beautiful baroque church with joy, "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" And me in English, "Silent Night, Holy Night/ All is calm, all is bright.
Then the exquisitely tender final verse we sang:
Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant beams from thy holy face.
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Despite the crowd milling about after the service, a reverent hush filled the streets as we walked home. My Christmas family and I didn't need to talk. We were enveloped in love.