When I was a boy, we always had Christmas morning at home with just my immediate family — mom, dad, my three sisters, and me. But on Christmas Eve…oh! on Christmas Eve, that is when Christmas really happened.
At 5 o’clock or so, we would gather at Grandma and Grandpa Ryman’s house for dinner. The whole Ryman family was there: Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Thelma and Uncle Richard and Jim and Lori, Ben and Doris Dace (friends of the family), and the six of us. Before the dishes were done and certainly before presents were opened, we packed up the cars (including Grandpa’s Rambler), usually in the snow, and headed off to Calvary Lutheran Church in Springfield, Ohio. Aunt Thelma’s family went to First Lutheran and we went to St. Luke’s, but Calvary was Grandma’s and Grandpa’s church. And we all went there together once a year.
Though I only attended Calvary once a year, I recall so much from those annual visits. I vividly remember the way the church entrance was located off to the left and that, as soon as we entered from the cold snow and the rush of getting there from dinner, the sanctuary gave me a warm, red peace and stillness. And wonder.
But the poinsettias and the people and the carols and the candy are not what made the difference in a little boy’s heart and life. The difference was that for my family it was important to stop and worship on Christmas Eve. Oh, yes, there was a book of Lifesavers waiting under the tree and a crisp dollar bill in an envelope with my name on it stuck in the tree. But those had to wait, as did the new handkerchief and socks that were also part of the annual family gifting. The whole book of Lifesavers (eight or sometimes twelve rolls) would be there when we got back from church. I was taught that at a very early age.
When I was a few years older (I think 14), and the world got more hurried, someone decided we could skip church that year. Nothing doing! I told them the presents could wait; I was going to church. I don’t know how I planned to get halfway across town in the snow. But I looked around to see what the response might be and Aunt Thelma and Grandma Ryman were getting up to put their coats on. Then everyone but the person whose idea it was to skip church was headed out the door to Calvary.
He would have to wait along with the handkerchief and socks — and the dollar bill and Lifesavers. Jesus was waiting for us.