December. It’s a terrible month.
It’s cold, but not necessarily snowy – meaning the dearth of the failed garden is still visible despite our efforts therein to grow vegetables and then clean up the resultant residue.
It’s the month of Christmas, but also the month of ballet performances, Christmas concerts, Christmas parties, gift-wrapping fundraisers and the myriad list of events that must be hurdled in order to avoid being buried with a stake of holly through one’s heart before the arrival of December the Twenty-Fifth.
It’s the month of lighting the world, love for one’s fellow man, service, joy, love and laughter – though kids still whine about having to do the dishes or practice their music when they have ballet to practice or homework to do; when parents hang the empty threat of fewer presents from Santa Claus for chores left undone and lament that December brings laundry and home improvement projects and clogged drains and broken shower valves – none of it wrapped in tinsel.
It’s the month of the Holy Spirit, but sometimes turns into the month of another kind of Holy S-word I won’t mention here.
And it’s the month where I start off for work in the darkness, come home in the darkness and, if I get to see the sun in the sky, it’s as I hurriedly walk through the cold from building to building at work, anxious to get out of the cold of nature and back into the air-conditioned cold of the office.
It’s no wonder the film I look forward to the most this time of year is not Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but Bob Clark’s “A Christmas Story,” where the emphasis is less on what life would be without me but whether or not the Most Feared Furnace Freak in Northern Indiana will ever get to taste that Christmas turkey or find out why his wife used up all the glue so he can fix his Major Award. Oh yeah. And some kid wants a bb gun for Christmas.
Once in a while, though, December, well, I find its magic again.
Just like Ralphie Parker does, looking out his bedroom window the morning of Christmas Day. The soundtrack harp plays gently as he looks over the fresh snow fallen on their tumbledown fence, their tatty garage, the droopy clothesline and the bare trees. “Wow,” he whispers. Then he wakes his brother Randy and they descend the staircase through the rubble of bullies, themes, triple-dog dares, lug nuts silhouetted against the traffic, furnace clinkers and shattered Major Awards to hear the gruff Old Man, hot-damn Oldsmobile man; the one person he did not ask to give him the Official Red Ryder Carbine Action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle, giggle like a schoolboy as Ralphie opens up the package containing his cold-steel beauty.
And the magic comes not in the fulfillment of avaricious dreams, not in the harried schedules and despite the whining, be it from child or parent.
That magic comes because family remains family, even after Ralphie said the F-dash-dash-dash word, after the Scut Farkas Affair, after Randy got his milk underneath the sink where he was sobbing because Daddy was gonna kill Ralphie.
The magic comes anyway because like Ralphie, like the Old Man, I’m not perfect.
The magic comes because – if I’m allowed to say this in our day and age – of the grace of God, defined as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.”
The Grinch who stole Christmas, he also received grace.
He found grace not because his heart grew three sizes – that came after – but because of the Whos down in Whoville; they showed him grace by coming out of their pillaged homes singing – singing with a glad sound.
Linus reminds us of grace, tossing his blanket aside when he quotes the angels saying “Fear not.”
Ralphie and his family received grace, not because of the Red Ryder gun, but because despite the Bumpus hounds getting their dinner, they found a way to rise above the disaster and become introduced to Chinese turkey.
Ebenezer Scrooge found grace, waking the morning after his visits with the three spirits:
"I don't know what to do!" cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!"
He had frisked into the sitting-room, and was now standing there: perfectly winded.
"There's the saucepan that the gruel was in!" cried Scrooge, starting off again, and going round the fire-place. "There's the door, by which the Ghost of Jacob Marley entered!
There's the corner where the Ghost of Christmas Present, sat! There's the window where I saw the wandering Spirits! It's all right, it's all true, it all happened. Ha ha ha!"
Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs!
"I don't know what day of the month it is!" said Scrooge. "I don't know how long I've been among the Spirits. I don't know anything. I'm quite a baby. Never mind. I don't care. I'd rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!"
He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer, ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding, hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!
Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his stirring, cold cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious. Glorious!
"What's to-day?" cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
"Eh?" returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.
"To-day?" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day."
"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven 't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!"
The Nephites found it, despite the sentence of death hanging over their heads, a sentence pronounced by the unbelievers:
Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet.
Now it came to pass that when Nephi, the son of Nephi, saw this wickedness of his people, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.
And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed because of their faith in the tradition of their fathers.
And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:
Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.
And it came to pass that the words which came unto Nephi were fulfilled, according as they had been spoken; for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.
And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets, who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign which had been given was already at hand.
And they began to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth.
For they knew that the prophets had testified of these things for many years, and that the sign which had been given was already at hand; and they began to fear because of their iniquity and their unbelief.
And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.
And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets.
And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word.
Perhaps, as I’m grumbling about in the cold and dark, waiting for the bus, stumbling off the bus to rush into the warm building, or to rush home for some other blasted Christmas event, I could pause a moment and see the new star. Feel giddy as a drunken man. Toss aside the blanket of my own insecurities and find my heart growing two sizes. And, perhaps, if I listen hard enough, I’ll hear the Old Man in the sky, giggling in joy as he sees me capture that magic again, if only for a moment.