On the night before my mom died, the family was having supper together at my sister's house. Dad loved family and the more around the table the merrier! Although I wasn't there, I saw the video of my father raising a glass of wine and toasting everyone. He was so happy that he ended the toast with "It's like I died and went to heaven."
The next day's sadness was a gut punch. It was like hell on earth to lose Mom.
Why do I write all this on Christmas day?
Those of us born and raised in a Christian tradition celebrate today the birth of God's son, the Savior of the world: Jesus.
His nativity is marked by gifts, wise men, the star, an angel and quaking shepherds. But the shadow of the cross falls even on this day: Joseph and Mary were denied hospitality, the son was born in an undignified cattle trough, poor and in a country ruled by despised foreigners.
And yet in the darkest part of the year (at least in the northern hemisphere), unto us a light shines. It's as if an opening in heaven revealed a way through the morass of hopelessness. Not by abandoning earth but by embracing the heavenly here: Joseph stays with his pregnant wife; the shepherds go back home "a different way"; the vulnerability of a naked infant betokens the power and presence of God who says through a centurion 33 years later at another uninviting place, Calvary: "Surely, this was the Messiah."
My dad was right- on the best of days we get a glimpse of heaven. But we haven't died yet and there's still lots of work to do. Maybe this season of Christmas will help us find heaven on earth in the little and large things that are the gifts of our life.
Alice and I wish you a very Merry Christmas!