“Do not be afraid. I am an angel of the Lord, bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” Sarah enthusiastically rehearsed her lines, as Marissa pinned on the angel wings to the flowing white gown. “How did that sound mom?”
“Wonderful.” Marissa encouraged. Seeing her daughter so radiant, filled with the joy of Christmas kindled the soul’s spark.
It had been a stressful forty-eight hours. The temporary respite of the board’s decision to delay the FLEX Plan vote until January 6, was a welcome relief, but Marissa knew it didn’t solve the problem. Grant Spaulding was more determined than ever to sacrifice the heart and soul of Northwest Trading Company. The fight had only begun.
Marissa thought of Mary and Joseph and the darkness they faced in the shadow of Christmas joy. Joy is something we often wrestle with, but the light of Christmas does cut into the dark. Marissa had to stay strong, even if
deep down she worried about the future.
As a single mom with no job, she’d be living off her savings and a prayer, hitting the pavement and busting down doors to net another job. Perhaps it was that fear, the anxiety of not being able to provide for her children that drove her quest to actively protest the FLEX Plan. What about the thousands of other families, living paycheck to paycheck, who didn’t have the luxury of owning a home and having a car that is paid for? They need their jobs at NWTC to put food on the table and to barely pay their bills.
“I come from the orient, afar, a Magi seeking the star of the king, a savior of all nations. I bring frankincense.” Joel came into the room, dressed as a Wise Man. The Saint Jude’s Christmas Pageant and Live Nativity occurs every Christmas Eve from 5 to 7, followed by a meal in the parish hall. Midnight Mass follows at neighboring St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
“Greetings, wise man.” Sarah shouted gleefully at her brother.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get home in time to take you to the zoo,” Marissa told Joel. “I’ll make it up to you.”
“That’s okay, mom. I had a blast making cookies with Aunt Noelle and Sarah. We have our cookies all laid out for Santa. We decorated Christmas cards for Mr. & Mrs. Claus too.”
“We made you an ornament mom,” Sarah added in. “We put it on the tree, right underneath the star. That way daddy is sure to see it from heaven.”
“That is the best Christmas gift ever.” Marissa held back tears. “Did you leave carrots for the reindeer?”
“Carrots and celery.”
“After we get home from the pageant you each get to open one gift,” Marissa loved seeing Joel and Sarah’s eyes light up. She remembered the days when the magic of a small Christmas gift under the tree, made her heart leap with anticipation. In her adult years, she’d let go of the physical joy of receiving to the gift of giving to those around her and receiving the gift of Christ’s love as an example. It had taken her faith, the ability to forgive, let go and accept grace to emotionally survive the turmoil of Trevor’s death. She saw hope even in the deepest darkness, in the light shining from her kids. They gave her faith to endure.
Zeke stumbled in, disheveled, wearing baggy jeans and a hoodie.
“Zeke, where have you been? And why aren’t you dressed? The Nativity starts in an hour, we’re leaving the house in twenty minutes.” Marissa exasperated.
“I don’t want to dress up and play a fictional character in some stupid Christmas play.”
“Zeke, Christmas is the heart of love, family and peace. Christ’s birth is a new hope, second chances and hope beyond hope. The nativity symbolizes that living gift with have in the Holy Trinity, the sacrifice of Christ gives life to all the world.”
“It’s all a fable. The Magi weren’t even there with Jesus the night he was supposedly born.”
“Yes, they arrived on Epiphany. That doesn’t make it less real. The magi saw a miraculous star, the light of hope and redeeming grace for all the nations. They trusted the miracle of that star, following it to Christ. Having the magi in the nativity might not be historical, but it has spiritual truth, a recognition that the humble babe born in a manger is God, and has come as a king and savior, not for the greedy, but for the disenfranchised. They saw the wonder in the unexpected.” Marissa hated that Zeke was losing his faith. She too had wrestled with doubt and understood you can minister to doubt, but it takes a person’s own volition to trust the Holy Spirit, to accept the persistent validity of faith even if it seems impossible.
“Whatever, I’d rather not go,” Zeke shrugged.
“The Nativity is counting on you!”
“They have six other wise men. I think they can survive without me.”
“Fine, don’t participate in the nativity, but you are going to church. Get your suit on.”
“You can’t make me,” Zeke argued.
“Yes, I can.” Marissa used to hate when her parents said that. It took being a parent to understand when you need to set boundaries, even if they seem nonsensical to the teenager. “Get dressed.”
“I cannot stand you! You are ruining my life.”
“I love you and whether or not you can see that, I’m doing what’s best for you Zeke.” Marissa firm, even though his words pierced her like a knife to the heart.
“Don’t yell at mom,” Joel defended. “Christmas is the best holiday ever. It was dad’s favorite holiday.”
“Don’t lecture me about dad.”
“We all miss dad. You are being selfish.”
“I’m a realist,” Zeke shot back at his brother. “I won’t apologize to mom, not after she’s ruined my life.”
“Way to be overdramatic,” Joel rolled his eyes.
“Stop arguing. It is Christmas and for the next twenty-four hours there will be love, joy and peace under this roof,” Marissa instructed, wiping away a lone tear. She silently said a prayer, ‘God be with Zeke, allow the Holy Spirit to work through him and guide him away from his hate and anger. Help him realize the measure of your love.’
Grant Spaulding stared out at the Puget Sound from his Belltown Penthouse window, the lights flickering through the fog as orbs, floating like ghosts in the night. He paced the floor, anger welling up inside, work a ceaseless burden racking his brain, demanding, and exacting. He would not rest until he had sought revenge on all that opposed him, forcing the FLEX Plan through in the way he saw fit.
Grant realized on a superficial mental level that he was being reckless and unreasonable; this agenda was more about his wounded ego and greed versus the good of the company. Still, he grew mad with power and the determination to stay the course, even if it meant losing everything. Intellectually, Grant questioned his sanity; his emotions manipulating reason and analysis to fuel his own misguided ambition.
The CEO remained a prisoner, trapped in his penthouse, as the media were camped outside his door, reporting on ‘The Grinch of Seattle.’ He figured the publicity would die down by Christmas morning. In the interim, he remained in the dark, meticulously spinning his next scheme.
His driver had offered to take him out of town, to the company’s remote luxury cabin near Mount Rainier, a perfect place to evade the media blitz.
The thought of snow and ice, loneliness and self-examination at the Rainier was a tempting invitation. Still tonight, he preferred a bottle of scotch, locked in the silence of his own darkness.
Opening the window, feeling the bitter air rush in as the wind howled, he could hear distant carols from Belltown Methodist Church. The choirs voice a haunting serenade, plaguing him with Christmas. The season pestered him with unyielding compassion.
“Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars goes by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.” The voices drifted in and out. He cursed the tune. The bleak winter a discontent raging within. He cursed the season and all its gifts.
The clock on the wall read 11:00. Grant put down his shot glass. Tired and restless, he took a sleeping pill and fell onto his four-poster bed. Within a few minutes, the executive passed out, deep into a dreamless sleep.
Saint Jude’s Community Center lies in the downtown Seattle’s Capitol Hill district. It is a hub for the neighborhood, offering services including classes to childcare, outreach, and a small homeless shelter. Capitol Hill has struggled with its homeless population, from orphans to those facing addiction, hard-working families who live on the streets due to lack of affordable housing. Each survivor’s story is different, tragic, and full of hope in its own way. Saint Jude’s and other outreach programs in King County help build a bridge between poverty and security, homelessness to shelter, working to show integrity and dignity to societies marginalized.
The community center’s annual Live Nativity and Christmas Pageant brings the community together in the spirit of love and kindness, strengthening bonds and spreading good cheer. Over 500 people gathered in the alley to watch the outdoor nativity before moving instead to the center’s humble chapel. The influx of attendees running from homeless wanders in need of a guiding light to affluent businessman, all would live and work in the shadow and light of Capitol Hill.
The rain and frigid temps did not keep the Nativity from being an overwhelming success. Volunteers served hot cocoa and served gingerbread star of Bethlehem cookies, while the Agatha Bell Ringers performed ‘We Three Kings,’ ‘What Child is this,’ and other Christmas favorites. The Live Nativity included three camels, a donkey, cow, and sheep from a local organic farm just outside of the city limits. A large star rose above the nativity, courtesy of Capitol Hardware.
With the Star lit, the group burst into song, “O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect Light.” They migrated inside to the warmth of the chapel.
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream,” the narrator, twelve-year-old Amy Pryce, spoke with clarity as the angel ‘Gabriel,’ spoke his lines.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah. ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means God is with us.”
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. Joseph and Mary went to the town of Bethlehem, but there was not a bed available for them, so they stayed in a stable. The time had come for Jesus’ birth.” The children began to sing ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem.’
“Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus, and wrapped him bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger.” The choir continued to sing with ‘Away in a Manger,’ as the scene shifted to the shepherds tending their flock.
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord shone around them.”
“Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. A light that will enlighten the nations. For a child is born to us, upon his shoulder dominion rests. He will be a redeemer for the all the world, a wonderful counselor, prince of peace and authority rests on his shoulders.” Sarah proclaimed. “This will be a sign for you that you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
“Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying…”
“Glory to God in the highest heaven.”
Overcome by emotion, Marissa wept with bittersweet hope. For some inexplicable reason her soul was stirred to pray among the voices of the angels for Grant Spaulding.
“I pray that the light that shines from heaven, may pierce the darkness maligning Grant Spaulding. I pray for his soul this night.”
The resounding dingdong of twelve distinct church bells jolted Grant awake. His restless soul shuttered at the noise, his brain trying to make sense of the vibrations, each clang so strong it shook the walls like an earthquake. He trembled in the brief silence of midnight, drenched in a cold sweat.
Clearing his head, he reasoned that the carol of the bells came from an area church signifying the first stroke of Christmas Day. Still the science of physics couldn’t not justify how the noise was so explosive, a beckoning call in the night, even he could not ignore.
After several minutes of quiet, Grant pulled the covers back over his head. As soon as he began to drift into sleep, there arose a boisterous clatter.
“What in the world?” Grant startled as the gas fireplace on the opposite side of his bedroom burst to life, the flames crackling and blazing at full force.
Begrudgingly, Grant rolled out of bed to investigate the incident. He rarely uses the fireplace and could only assume that the on switch got triggered by the vibration of the bells, or worst case scenario, by a mouse hiding in the chimney, accidentally turning on the heat.
As Grant stepped closer, the fire flared with an insurmountable brightness, blotting out all darkness and shadow, intense as the noonday sun. Grant’s logic told him that the gas was malfunctioning, igniting the flames, a fire that could destroy. The air did not smell of smoke. It was full of the clear, crisp scent of Evergreen, with a hint of sweet lilies. He reached for the phone to call security, not sure if he was hallucinating. Had the mix of alcohol and pills affected the lucidity of his mind?
Grant stumbled to turn off the fire, only for his bedroom balcony window to blow open with hurricane force. He was pushed to the ground as the air rushed in. Strangely the air was not cold. It lacked temperature, yet was tinged with emotions, memories of his past and present, Christmases long ago to this somber evening. The sound of heavenly harp music whispered joy in the wind.
“I am going crazy,” Grant sunk his head into his hands, in desperation. “Surely this is a nightmare, a dream in a winter’s sleep. In the morning I will wake up, this but an ethereal memory.”
Out the window, amidst the blackness of the cloudy night sky, Grant was confounded as a star appeared, brilliantly shining forth, surpassing the luminous crest of the moon. The star began to speed, crashing towards his apartment like a comet, the intensity blinding his sight with an all radiant, encompassing light.
As the light split open the night, revealing its power, Grant fears forced him to collapse. The awesome sight, a phenomenon he deemed as lunacy, death of mind, loss of his wits, a nightmare that he longed to arise from. His heart on the other hand felt the burden of worry lifted in the light, his soul complete by that fiery gaze.
“What is this if not death?” Grant shouted, angry and confusion. “If this is but a dream, I command myself to wake up.”
“Do not fear, for this is no dream,” the light of the star turned into a man. “I am Saint Nicholas, sent down from heaven.”
“You’re the homeless vagrant from the street. You are a thief,” Grant accused, seeing the familiar face, only this time the elderly man was clothed in majesty, wearing white and red robes, and carrying a staff and scroll. His face glowing with a radiance that can only be described as otherworldly.
“I am not a thief, but a saint sent on a mission to intercede on God’s behalf. I have come to bestow you with the Twelve Gifts of Christmas. To call you out of the wilderness, the abyss of night, to light the way to Christ, the advocate and redeemer of the world. For you are living in the shadow of death, a rotten core that festers in desolation, Christ is the light to lift you out of the shadows to new life.”
“This is a hoax. I’m not fooled,” Grant still confounded by the incident, unable to believe his eyes and listen to the truth he was hearing. “You are but a beggar, a homeless vagrant living on the street, devoid of warmth and food, hygiene and clothes. Who are you?”
“A servant of the king. A saint who intercedes for humankind through prayer in heaven, a messenger sent on behalf of Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit to show you the path to redemption.” Saint Nicholas spoke with an all-knowing voice that nearly convinced the cynic in Grant to believe his words.
“If you are in fact Saint Nicholas, shouldn’t you be riding around in a sleigh with reindeer and putting gifts and coal into stockings?” Grant mocked.
“The gift I bring to you is salvation, Christ Jesus, born this night to save all the world from sin.”
“I don’t feel guilty about my sin,” Grant scoffed. “I live the high life and would rather bank my investment in cold hard cash than what you are offering. I don’t need saving. The whole concept of a God that makes us feel guilty for living is insane.”
“Sin isn’t an arbitrary fallibility; it is a poison that darkens the soul. It is the hate that binds you into chains of revenge that disconnects you from life. It is death, not because you disobeyed the law, but because sin is hurting the flesh and the soul. Christ cleanses us, frees us from the destroying burden of sin. It is the sacrifice of grace, love without expectation. It heals and opens your eyes. You are blind, lost in your steps, wandering in the darkness. This spiritual blindness is killing you, rotting the humanness inside, you rely on animosity instead of forgives, hate and anger over love, selfishness over compassion. You think that you are fine, a rock of isolation that can withstand all storms. Instead, you are a fragmented soul that is pulled apart by the darkness inside you. The light of Christ can heal you, but you first must learn to accept the gift of that grace.”
“So, you have come, a ghostly visitor, to incite me to repent?”
“You are too stubborn and confused to repent now.” Saint Nicholas sighed. “Christ knows that your soul has grown dependent on the poison of wickedness cast in doubt’s shadow, lost in lust of the world, a desire for money and power that only consumes your darkness. You have lost understanding and compassion. Yet deep in the darkest recesses of your soul the light burns, so faint I fear without this divine intervention the wind of the next storm would dissolve your integrity completely. As long as that light shines, the Holy Spirit remains within you, and there is hope of redemption. This road isn’t paved in gold. It is a choice. You must relearn the lessons of Christmas, seeing life through the eyes of a beggar, becoming dependent on God and the kindness of strangers, instead of the selfishness of your greed.”
“This is pointless…you are just a figment of my imagination.”
“I am an intercessor serving Christ to help you on your path to redemption,” Saint Nicholas unfazed by Grant’s doubt. “In the morning you will wake, on Christmas Day a new man. Your life will be that of a beggar, poor and wretched, alone and without a penny to your name.”
“You expect me to believe that in the morning I’m going to suddenly go from millionaire to street urchin?”
“Help is always provided in the name of God. You must learn to rely on the kingdom of heaven for help and not the selfish tendency of your misguided ego. Servants of Christ, from the lowly to the rich will help you on this journey, as there are fueled with the sustaining spirit of Christmas. For as the words are spoken: ‘and I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.’”
“This is lunacy!”
“Twelve gifts you will receive to bridge the chasm of death to life, doubt to faith. Open your heart and you will find understand, wisdom and grace.”
Before Grant could offer a reply, the nightly visitor disappeared and the light of the star with him. The fire extinguished as the cold hard silence of winter’s desolation proved bitter. Grant pinched his skin, burning his nerves. Surely it was a dream, though every sensation in his body told him that he was awake. Desperate to wake up from this surreal set of circumstances he fell back asleep, convinced that in the morning, that everything would be set right.
Please excuse typos
Copyright 2021 (Adele Lassiter)