the night before christmas

This week I’ve been thinking about Christmas memories. I remember standing at the top of the stairs with my three brothers and younger sister, waiting for my dad to say “Go!” so we could sprint downstairs and tear into our stockings.  I remember getting the doll I’d always wanted, and being so enamored of her, I thought my heart would burst.   I remember eating turkey, twice-baked potatoes, green beans and home made rolls my mom had made, ending with a raspberry-vanilla trifle for dessert.

Then there was the Christmas pageant when my little brother Matthew was playing a shepherd.  He and the other shepherds were supposed to “wake up” when the angels appeared and started to sing, but Matthew had a high fever so he slept through it all, curled up by the communion table at the front of the stage.

I remember traveling to boyfriends’ hometowns to meet their parents.  (For the record, I liked all the parents I met – but none of those relationships worked out.)

I remember the Christmas I spent with my Jewish friend in New England, who had never celebrated Christmas before.

But the Christmas that sticks out most in my mind this year is the Christmas between my junior and senior years of college.   I was going to college in Los Angeles, and I flew to my parents’ place in northeast Pennsylvania, near the Pocono Mountains, for winter break.

It was late, and my siblings had gone to bed.  But I was wide awake because I was still on West Coast time.  I was reading by the wood stove in the living room when my dad came out of my parents’ bedroom holding the cordless phone.

He was a pastor, and a parishioner had just called him to let him know that a mentally ill man from our congregation had been taken to the emergency room because he was threatening to hurt himself and other people.

“Sunshine, do you want to go with me?” my dad asked.

I threw on my coat and boots, and we drove to the hospital.  While the doctors were trying to complete the paperwork it would take to admit the man to the psychiatric ward against his will, the man took off and ran into the night.

The doctors called the police, who were dispatched to find the man and bring him back to the hospital.

I thought that was the end of it.  My dad and I climbed into the mini van and he pulled out of the parking lot.  It was after 2 a.m., and the temperature was below freezing, and I was ready to go back home and crawl into a warm bed.  But instead of turning to go towards home, my dad went the opposite way.

“Dad, where are we going?” I asked.

“We’re going after him,” my dad said.  Not in a let’s-form-a-posse kind of way, but the way the widow hunted for the lost coin; the way the shepherd pursued the one lost sheep, even though he already had 99 who were found.

And so we cruised the streets of the small town until finally we spotted the man shuffling down the shoulder of an unlit back road.  My dad pulled over, turned off the car, and called 911 to give them the man’s location.  We sat there in the dark, cold car and kept an eye on the man until we saw a police car pull up and help him get inside.

Most years I see Christmas from the perspective of the people who were involved, like Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the wise men.

But this year, I can see it from God’s perspective.

I can see God up in heaven, his heart breaking as he sees his children sick and lost and suffering.   And the night before Christmas, I imagine God telling Jesus, “Get in the car, son.  We’re going after them.”