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Emily’s Christmas Story

Today I’m posting a sad, victorious, and thought-provoking article by my good friend Emily Cotton. Emily is a historical fiction writer, and sometimes blogger.  Watch for the release of her upcoming book, Barbarossa’s Barb.  And in the meantime you can read her posts on Cotton Unraveled, and visit her on Facebook

EmilyI’m grateful for Christmas.
December 1961 was my Christmas without Santa Claus. I was eight years old, and my youngest brother was in the hospital dying of leukemia. He was the second brother I had lost to that dreaded disease and so I had no hope that he would come home again.

My parents spent most of their time with him. The usual pre-Christmas round of buying gifts with our hoarded allowances was hurried and subdued; the Christmas lights never went up, and the decorations looked like the efforts of four kids aged 4 to 11, with the occasional oversight of a distant older brother home from college break.

It’s not that I ever believed in Santa. We never had a fireplace, and I wasn’t dumb enough to think reindeer could fly. Besides, being an extremely literal family who didn’t go in for religious nonsense, all us kids knew that nobody could cover the globe in one night, let alone give every person their just deserts for a year’s behavior. But since the whole culture did the story, like the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy, we joined in singing ‘Up on the rooftop, reindeer pause; down comes good old Santa Claus!” (Except I always thought it was ‘reindeer paws’ and thought the lyricist should have known that all deer have hooves.) I never liked the Santa-themed carols much. They sounded stupid.

Not so the traditional carols. The ageless tunes spoke to my starving soul, and the words even more: Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men! Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
I learned every verse of every carol, even to the last stanzas, the ones rarely sung. “Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

I thought that if you were going to dwell on a fantasy, the God one beat Santa all hollow. Wouldn’t it be amazingly wonderful if there really were a Creator of the universe, of me and of my sick little brother, who actually, personally cared about us? If he really became like us, starting as a helpless infant, conceived under the shadow of bastardy, to be teased and rejected by the other children? If he really were born to an unwelcomed homeless couple sheltering in somebody’s cattle-shed, in a backwards conquered country under the heel of a totalitarian empire? If, despite all that evil could throw against him (and evil can throw a lot against a child on the bottom) he really lived through all that without once giving back wrong for wrong?

Wouldn’t it be amazingly wonderful if, because of that god-man’s sacrifice on our behalf, all our own wrongs would be erased, and there would be no more death?

Little Paul Harlan left us on Christmas Eve. My parents were anti-religious, so there was no church or temple or synagogue or mosque to help our family cope. No funeral. No neighbors bringing food, and none of the comfort Good Religion provides the bereaved. Over the next five years, while our family fell apart, I saw that my parents’ godless philosophy only worked in fair weather. It didn’t hold up to the storms.

That sad holiday was the beginning of my investigation into what works. With my limited knowledge, and a skeptical, cynical, materialist viewpoint, I started a groping search for the answer to pain and death and disease and evil. I had one tool at my disposal: I had history. And even a child could see that all of history bent around the short life of the man named Jesus of Nazareth.

It took me another 12 years to realize that he still lived, and that he wanted me. Hot-tempered, self-centered, loud, impulsive, negligent, buck-toothed, unpopular, trouble-on-the-hoof me. With infinite patience Jesus poked and prodded, lured and wooed, until at last I was desperate enough to hear his call: “Come. Rest. Give me your burdens. Take me as yoke-fellow; I’ll do the heaviest part, and if you watch me and listen, you’ll learn the commands too. Help me pull this planet in the right direction, for I have work perfectly suited to your abilities and passions. And don’t grieve, because your brothers are here in my keeping. You’ll see them again.”

nativity-scene1I’ve proved him for 40 years now. He’s kept his promises, and I trust he will keep them forever.

“For lo! The days are hast’ning on, by prophets seen of old, ‘till with the ever circling years shall come the time foretold. When heaven and earth shall acknowledge the Prince of Peace their king, and the whole world give back the song that now the angels sing.”