It was 1976 and I was 6 1/2 years old that Christmas. I remember laying in bed on Christmas Eve in the top bunk as my older brother slept quietly in his bunk below. Our family had come home from the Christmas Eve service at our church a few hours before, and we had already made it through a family tradition of opening just one simple gift before going to bed. After seven kids my parents had learned that giving us that one gift was like slowly turning a pressure valve that probably gave them at least a little more sleep on Christmas morning. As I lay there it was like something out of Clement Clarke Moore’s story “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, you know with children nestled in bed and visions of sugar plumbs dancing in their heads – but for me it was toys. I was thinking about all of the stuff I had wanted and wondering what would be waiting for me under that tree. That’s when the most amazing thing happened.
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God…'” (Luke 1:26-30)
Suddenly a brightness began to flood my room, and as I turned my head to the right to see what it was, I found myself looking up and into the eyes of a tall man. He wasn’t so much wearing a white robe, it was like he was clothed in light. I wasn’t really afraid as I somehow knew this wasn’t a stranger in my room, but an angel. There were no wings unfurled, no halo on top of his head… but I knew who and what he was, as sure as I knew who my parents were. It startled me a bit when he addressed me by name, “Barry… where is your Bible?” I didn’t speak my response, only simply pointed over to the top of my dresser where this simple children’s Bible that my parents had bought me lay. He reached across the room and took the little Bible in his hands and then opened to the Christmas story and began to read:
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world… And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:1-20)
When he finished reading, he closed the Bible and looked at me and said, “Barry… THAT is what Christmas is all about.” At that he began to sing, and then suddenly it was like my room and the wall behind him simply faded away as a multitude of angels appeared behind him and joined his song. It wasn’t so much that I could understand the words that were being sung, as it was more a blend of amazing sounds and harmonies pouring forth from them. I could sense the love and wonder being expressed and knew that this was being directed toward God.
After several seconds of this, they all simply disappeared as quickly as the lone angel had appeared a few minutes before. My Bible was back in it’s place on my dresser and I was alone once again… but really I knew that I was not. There was such a peace that filled my little room, and I remember rolling over to face the wall and think about what had just happened. No longer was my mind filled with the thoughts of what would be laying under the tree, but now even as a young child, my thoughts were directed back to that stable where a baby was born 2000 years ago… and to the field where those shepherds were with their sheep.
“What is man that your are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4a)
What is it about you and I that captures the attention of our Creator? What is it about even the most mundane aspects of our life that causes Him to pause and gaze at us just as a parent does when they are lost in their thoughts as they watch their child at play in a park? What is man that God’s mind is full of him?
Every Christmas for the last 35 years I have thought about that Christmas Eve. I’ve not talked of it much, as I typically wonder who would ever believe that God would care enough to peel back that heavenly veil for a 6 1/2 year-old boy. But God knew what I needed to know. He knew the things that I would encounter and come against in the years that have filled my life. I have been sustained through many things by the simple thought that God cared enough to change the thoughts of a child, that He would send a heavenly choir just as He did to a field outside of Bethlehem the night that Jesus was born.
In all these years that have passed from that Christmas until now, I have come to be comforted by the fact that I don’t need to know WHY God cares… only that He does.