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December 24, 1998



I spent last night completing a trip that normally takes six and half hours. I finally arrived at my sisters house at ten p.m. some twelve hours after I left Georgia.

To be fair I probably spent three hours parked in various spots along the interstate which had been closed. I have sat and watched news broadcasts where they would mention that the interstate had been closed but I always imagined that there was a roadblock at some point and everyone was ushered off an exit where they could go have coffee or something. But what actually happens is in the middle of some God forsaken mountain in heavy fog you and several thousand other motorists sit parked waiting for what you imagine is an accident up ahead.

I spent three hours waiting for such closings. I used the time to get out and chip away the significant amount of ice that had built up around my vehicle. It was amazing what an ice sleigh it had become.

As we all sat on the closed interstate the roads which had been fine up until this point became a river of ice. So that when they finally reopened the road the traffic bumper to bumper drove along at 20 miles an hour. Suddenly a hundred mile trip is a major one. You can do the math.

The rained turned to snow as I crossed the TN/KY line and from there the road was very slippery. I watched the cars in front of me fishtailing and observed cars in the median strip where they had slid and parked in gaurdrails along the way. I did start a serious slide once but that was about the extent of my sleighing on the journey.

Finally I arrived at my exit and was glad to leave the crowded and slippery interstate for an isolated and slippery snow covered country road.

There is something about such an experience that suspends your senses. Where your mind seems to be someplace else. Where time seems to hang in the air.

After thirty miles of such mindless driving I found out that my anti-lock brakes work just fine as the light turned red at the bottom of a very icy hill near where my sister lived. I almost was able to give testimony to accidents always happen closest to home, but thankfully I don't have to and it wasn't my home that I was near anyway it was hers and I was thankfull to be there.

*I have memories of cold days in southern New Hampshire and looking out of my window and watching the snow fall. I remember an onslaught of out of town visitors arriving throughout the day many times laden with gifts and filled with stories of far off places, (which at that time were usually places like New Jersey). I can almost feel the brutal cold wind blowing snow into my face as I walked the short distance to St. Stanislaus Catholic Church to attend Midnight Mass.

Fast forward a few years and I have a memory of a different sort of Christmas. I was in Virginia finishing up my military service. I had only been there about a month having recently returned from Turkey and knew almost no one. I remember a Christmas party and a 50ish rather heavy woman dressed as Santa handing out small gifts to the few of us who had gathered for this celebration.

My memory of midnight mass that year is one of standing along the wall of the overcrowded church and of a priest who had just read an article about the infancy narrative and seemed intent on letting us all know that it didn't happen that way. He wasn't sure why but he said that he would not be telling his niece and nephews that story with any more credibility than he would be telling them about Santa Claus.

I remember being rather angry with all of this but too alone to leave.

Now years later on a very cold day on a farm in Georgia I find myself having a hard time imagining the Christmas scene as it often appears on Christmas cards and in manger scenes. I still believe it happened that way and even believe that it happened in the cave that I once had the privilege of kneeling at in Bethlehem, but its the way its portrayed that causes me some problems.

Mary and Joseph are usually surrounding an open crib where a baby with a big crossed halo is emanating from the child's head (how could anyone question that this dude was the Son of God?). Gathered around the manger are various farming animals mostly cattle and usually a child dressed in some kind of skirt with a sheep over his shoulder.

Let me start with the young kid first with the sheep over his shoulder. It makes my neck sore to think about it. I can't imagine the sheep standing still. I imagine it wildly trying to get down from its imprisonment if for no other reason then to see where this light emanating from the big headed baby is coming from.

Then there are the cattle. Cattle like to eat and they like to eat all the time. Cattle are big animals they are like baby elephants when they move around they knock things over. I won't even mention that they tend to drop stuff right where they are.

So maybe the priest in Virginia meant that he didn't believe that it happened that way, the way that it is often portrayed. I guess I don't either.

This Christmas I imagine trying to find God in that little baby lying in the midst of a smelly stable where chaos reigns. The mere presence of the baby and the nervous parents speaks of something unusual. The barn is the place where animals are born not humans, and yet here we have a new evolution. A life force is entering humanity that is different from all that have come before. I imagine Shepherd arriving with lanterns and shining the light in the darkness of the barn and that light falling on the faces of farm animals and a baby. The hairless face of the baby radiates the light in a different way than all around it. Perhaps even in the form of a halo. Yet in my manger scene there are smells of the refuse of creation right along with the smells of birth and both speak of the cycle of nature which at this moment is changed forever.

In some ways I guess I end up believing in the same picture maybe with a couple of modifications. What we see in the manger and in life depends on what we believe.

I hope your Christmas is filled with faith and changes the way you see everyday life.

We all learn a valuable lesson as children and it is learned while we open up coloring books and choose what crayons we will use to color the pictures that the books present us with. It is something that we continue to do daily for the rest of our lives. How will we color our lives?

My Christmas present to each of you is a new set of crayons, the kind of box with all the colors even the tropical ones. It is a present you can use every day and it will change the way you see the world around you.

Merry Christmas!



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