A Cherished Christmas Eve Tradition

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying … and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men— Luke 2: 13-14 KJV

All through my childhood and well into my early married life, our family spent Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house. Nostalgically, I tend to remember it as a big house, which it really wasn’t by Texas standards. Some years, when as many as 30 of us sat elbow-to-elbow around the Christmas tree, it felt pretty cozy.

I always treasured that night: all my cousins, aunts and uncles on my dad’s side gathered together to celebrate the eve of Jesus’ birth, something probably 99 percent of people in our Bible Belt town did in those days.

One Christmas, when I was 15, my grandmother asked me to read the well-known scripture of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2 from the New Testament of the Bible, that night in front of the whole family. Grandma knew I’d been taking speech and drama classes, and wisely thought it would give me a chance to both show off my new skills and hone them at the same time.

My throat was dry as dirt and my heart pounded as I looked out at the relatives all staring me down like the judges on The Voice. The big family Bible was a heavy thing, and during the reading, I had to turn the page. Wouldn’t it just have to be during the part in the scripture where the big hard-to-pronounce words appeared that the big book began to slip in my sweaty, nervous hands?

“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.”

If it fell and closed, the whole moment would’ve been ruined as I fumbled to find my place again. It’s a well-known rule of theater to never lose your audience, even if it is family.

Then, a sudden intervention occurred. I began to see the whole story come alive. As the book slowly slid, in my mind’s eye “there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host” (verse 13). The Bible righted itself in my shaking palms — by a real angel or more likely a kind cousin lending a steady hand. In any case, the ultimately positive experience was but one of many chances to read from the Bible as I competed in Bible reading in interscholastic competitions in high school. I never once dropped it.

We’ve tried to keep the tradition of having one of our grandchildren read the “Christmas” scripture on Christmas Eve. One of the children always emerges and rises to the challenge of the King James version, which takes practice to master.

Today, as America’s population has grown more secular, celebrating the birth of Jesus sounds odd now that the old Christmas season traditions have morphed into a commercial, diversity-laced fusion known as “the holidays” — something my sweet Grandma and Granddad would hardly recognize and surely grieve over.

Even if you’re not a Christian, as a matter of historical perspective, it wouldn’t kill anybody if a 15-or 16-year-old in your family read that scripture before tearing into packages.

After all, those gifts under the tree represent the gifts of the somewhat mysterious, historically recorded (see ABC’s Nightline Dec. 23, 2010) three astronomer kings from the East (possibly China), who followed a bright star on a grueling journey to bring gifts to the “Messiah.”

In 80 countries, many thousands of Christians, the most at-risk members of any religion, are being persecuted, and in Iraq and Syria they are being tortured, enslaved, murdered and driven from their ancestral homes.

Christmas would be a good time for everyone, no matter what religious or non-religious persuasion, to register needed condemnation of this persecution as a loving gift to fellow human beings — one baby step closer to peace on Earth, good will toward men.

Note: Please consider a donation to Heart for Africa’s Project Canaan Farm and Abandoned Baby Home as part of your year-end giving: heartforafrica.org.